Ask Pat: Smoke and edibles.

DB asked—

The bylaw regarding Cannabis Regulations No. 8043, 2018 has a section saying retail shops cannot sell edible cannabis. I live in an apartment in New West that has a strict no smoking/vaping policy (which I am very happy about). Edible Cannabis is a work around for situations like mine – unless it will be legal to smoke on the streets (which I am assuming is not the case). I understand it has been adopted but, I still wanted to voice my opinion on it.

That was not strictly in the form of a question. But I’ll take a stab at it.

We are one day away from the legalization if cannabis in Canada, and all three levels of government have been scrambling to get a regulatory regime together. It is a challenge – this an unprecedented change in the regulation of a psychotropic drug. From a local government side, we needed to put together zoning and business bylaws to support the operation of the stores that coincide with the model that the province put together. We also have to think about the inevitable nuisance complaints we are going to receive around the legalization of what is, for all its alleged benefits or harms, a pretty stinky substance.

On edibles, our Bylaw is designed to parallel the federal regulations. There will be no legal edibles sold in Canada in 2018. I suspect this is related to a myriad of packaging and labeling concerns, and addressing the risk to children when sweets and drinks are made containing the psychoactive elements found in cannabis. There is some suggestion that they will address this in 2019, but until then, dried product intended for smoking is the only legal form of recreational cannabis.

Your point about Strata rules prohibiting the smoking of cannabis is definitely a concern. With the existing prohibitions around public smoking – no smoking in parks, in bus stops, 7.5m from the door to any public building, or inside any business or public building – you are right that there will be limited places where it is legal to smoke cannabis. Unlike alcohol, you will not be able to go to a business (like a pub or coffee shop) to smoke, but you will be able (as best I can tell) to smoke on the sidewalk or the street, as long as you are not within 7.5m of a door or air intake. Still, if you are restricted from smoking at home because of strata or rental rules, your opportunities are really limited. This creates a fundamental unfairness – this completely legal product will be inaccessible to some.

I honestly don’t know how to address this and remain compliant with the various laws at all three levels of government. If you have the skills, I suppose you could bake your own edibles using the dried product meant for smoking (I don’t think that would strictly be illegal, as long as you don’t sell the baked goods). Or you can wait until the federal government gets the edibles part figured out. The transition to this new regime is going to be challenging for several reasons.

As a city, we tried our best to put together a comprehensive set of regulations. We had a few workshops with Council and staff, and heard from the public and stakeholders in the industry. After some pretty challenging debates around what the limits should be, we settled on what will no doubt be an imperfect regime, but we will learn as we go along. We will be ready to accept applications for cannabis retailers as soon as legalization occurs on Wednesday, but as the process to get a store approved and operating may still take several months, don’t expect to be buying cannabis in New West until early in 2019.

Update: Time between the legalization of cannabis and the first e-mail complaint received by Mayor and Council abut having to smell the smoke in a public place: 16 hours.  

Council on Cannabis

My reports on the January 29th regular meeting and Public Hearing are here and here, respectively, but we also had a constructive Workshop session during the early afternoon that you can watch in its videotronic glory here.

Implementation of Cannabis Legislation
The Federal Government have announced that some time in July, 2018, the production, distribution and sale of cannabis for recreational use will be legal in Canada. This has resulted in a bit of a rush (by government standards) to develop appropriate regulatory controls around an industry that will transition from underground to commonplace. This has involved every level of government working at essentially the same time, trying to figure out where the overlaps and gaps are. At a national level, there is no precedence for this, so complications ensue…

What we know right now (and I am simplifying a bit here) is that the feds are going to regulate the commercial production and packaging, and create quality and other standards. The provincial governments are going to be responsible for distribution systems and regulating the retail market. Local governments will do what we always do – regulate local land use (through zoning) and business regulations to manage parochial concerns (business hours, signage standards, buffer zones, etc.).

The pressure on local governments right now is that we can’t really do our job until we have a good understanding of the framework that senior governments will provide. They are putting together laws, but we are not yet certain about what the details will be. In the regulation-as-sausage-making sense, we cannot just create new Bylaws instantly: between doing the drafting work, community consultation, legal review, Council approval, Public Hearings, and implementation, it can take 6 months or more to build an effective bylaw regime. July is 6 months away.

With this in mind, Council held a workshop to give staff guidance on a proposed regime for managing cannabis sales and production locally, within the limits of our regulatory role. Staff prepared some briefs on the ways they see this rolling out, leaving significant wiggle room as we are somewhat reading the tea leaves of semi-complete senior government regulation. It isn’t perfect, but it is a proactive approach.

All ideas were discussed as a set of basic principles to be put together into draft bylaws, with the intention of taking this out to public consultation to get a sense of where the community is on this. Therefore, take my comments and those of Council on this as a set of starting principles, which may change by the time we are finished this process later in the year. The discussion revolved around 5 basic areas:

1) Limiting retail locations (Zoning Bylaw)
The Province has indicated there will be government-run cannabis retailers and private retailers. This looks a bit like the current liquor store model. We can write a zoning bylaw to allow the sale of cannabis as an “add on use” to existing retail-zoned areas. Similar to a liquor retailer, an applicant would come to City Hall with a proposed location, staff would evaluate against a general set of guidelines and process an application that would require some public input. The actual guidelines are currently up in the air. What restrictions to put on these retail stores (if any) are the meat of the public discussion to come. Should there be a 300m buffer to the nearest school? 100m buffer from each other? Should it only be allowed in some retail areas, not others? Should there be a prohibition on selling in neighbourhood corner stores as opposed to retail strips? This is the conversation we need to have right now.

Notably, it does not look like consumption sites will be legal in the short term. There are a bunch of WorkSafe BC and other rules around smoking in work places, and edibles and tinctures will apparently not be legal until 2019, so we are limiting our discussion in the short term on retail sale for off-site consumption (think liquor stores, not pubs, for the alcohol corollary)

2)Production facilities (Zoning Bylaw)
It is anticipated that production will be pretty industrial, and due to security and energy costs, relatively large operations. Whether there will be a smaller “craft” production market is yet to be determined. The Federal Government is regulating this, but the City will need to assure our Zoning Bylaw allows this use in appropriate places. We have larger M2 zoned properties, mostly in Queensborough and the Braid Industrial Area, where staff feel it is most appropriate, and we have smaller M1 zones that are more light industry like in the Braid Triangle and adjacent to Stewardson Way. Which of these is most appropriate?

These industrial operations may smell, and it is a little unclear how prepared Metro Vancouver is to regulate air quality from them. It is not even clear where the proposed federal rules government production will intersect with the air quality bylaws of the regional government. This is something to watch.

3)Business licensing rules (Business License bylaw)
This is where we regulate things around the day-to-day operations of businesses, like hours of operation, staffing, limiting age of customers, and business streetscape. I am generally in favour of making this as similar to liquor stores as a starting point, but am willing to be convinced that either a more rigorous or more lax approach is appropriate. One important aspect is how we regulate the sale of “paraphernalia”: should it be limited to places that sell the product? we currently have (somewhat dated) Bylaws restricting the sale of “drug paraphernalia” in the City – these will need an update.

4)Public Consumption (Smoking Bylaw)
Another challenge that falls somewhat in to local jurisdiction is our public smoking law. Not all marijuana is smoked, but the nuisance and negative health impacts of second hand smoke are as real for pot as for cigarettes. Our current Bylaw does cover all smoking materials, so no big change needed here, though some clarifying language may help. I have other concerns around public education, but will cover that below.

5)Domestic production
The feds are going to make it legal to produce a few plants at home for personal use, and the city may want to create regulations around this, such as requiring that it only be done indoors or in an accessory building. I’m not sure if we need to take these measures, as I suspect much of the negative impact of previous “grow-op” practices were a product of growing under a prohibition regime – the need for intensive lights, hydroponics, etc. People growing a plant in their living room or deck may be no different than growing poinsettias or tomatoes, but I really don’t know. I feel we need some input from our Fire Chief and buildings staff to better understand potential issues.

This, and the smoking bylaw part above, brings up my final concern: New Westminster has a high proportion of people living in Multi-Family Buildings, be they condos or rentals, and I don’t really know how these new rules are going to impact that sector. Will building managers or stratas regulate the growing of plants on decks, the smoking of cannabis on decks, or even within apartments? Does the Strata Act or the Residential Tenancy Act address these issues already? What are the rights of residents (be they owners or renters) and what are their responsibilities? How much can stratas self-regulate this? I am afraid the City will be asked to intervene in this type of conflict between neighbours, and I don’t know if we understand how to manage this.

I want to know from the province about their efforts to educate the general public about the new rules, and where funding will come from to support local governments in addressing conflicts.

The City is initiating a public conversation about all of these issues, in the hopes that we can have a solid framework as soon as we have certainty on senior government regulations. I’m not sure we will have every piece in place by July, but we did emphasize to staff that we don’t want to drag our feet on this, even if it means holding Public Hearings in the summer (which is not a preferred practice).

Staff suggested we need to make a few changes to our existing Bylaws now in order to prevent unanticipated problems leading up to July and the city getting its entire regulatory regime passed. It is still illegal to sell cannabis from a storefront in Canada, and in New Westminster we have taken the approach of not providing business licenses to businesses wanting to engage in illegal activity. Staff recommended updating the language in our Zoning Bylaw to clarify that practice, and bring the language up to date with newer Federal regulations. They are not recommending changing any practices here in the short term, just making sure the language meets the current standard to remove uncertainty. Council agreed to give those Bylaw updates First and Second reading.

So stay tuned, folks, and let us know what you think about this new direction we are taking. I think we are entering with open minds and clear intent, but also aware that there will be some hiccups along the way.

Ask Pat: Whistle cessation update.

I’ve been a little behind on my “Ask Pat” responses. There are a few questions on different aspects of the Whistle Cessation theme, so I’ll cover them all with my answer to this one:

J.S. asked—

RE: new westminster train whistle cessation

I do not understand this project. There is a law saying train has to sound its horn at every crossing. Is there a law require it to be so loud that the entire town can hear it? Instead of throwing money on all these cessation projects which seem to be going nowhere, can’t train horn simply be modified so it is less aloud like a car horn or even a bell? Canadian train travels slower than a car. And I believe the law meant for it to be heard at that intersection only.

Yes, that would make total sense, but the answer to your first question is a completely absurd “yes”.

Train horns are designed to call attention to a train approaching a lonely rural road on the Canadian Shield at 80km/h, and therefore blow at something exceeding 100db for a regulatory more-than-20-seconds-for-every-crossing. That might make sense on a snowy rural crossing 100 miles east of Thunder Bay, but in the middle of a busy urban area the volume of the horns is clearly absurd. Especially then the crossing already has gates, bells, flashing lights, and the train is rolling along at 20km/h with a gigantic diesel engine chugging away at the front of it.

But the Railway Safety Act has a tendency to err on the side of caution, probably for good historic reasons. So we are stuck with this absurdity.

I would normally say “call your MP”, except that I know your MP has been working on rail interface issues for years, and has been stonewalled by successive governments and the simple intractability of trying to get the rail industry to behave as a good neighbour in urban areas. There is a bunch of long history here, related to the railways that built the Nation thinking and such, which was at one time, when railways were part of the National Enterprise, compelling, but now seem so much hollower now that the rail companies are just another multinational corporation charged with the holy duty of returning shareholder value… but I digress.

The City is, as you may have heard, working on bringing “Whistle Cessation” to our level crossings. This requires a significant amount of safety engineering, most of it patently absurd, to provide redundant safety measures enough that the Act and the railway operators are satisfied that absent-minded pedestrians and drivers won’t physically be able to wander into the path of a train. The City needs to pay for these works, and the rail companies that own the crossings both have to approve them, then decide (after the work is done, natch) if it now constitutes adequate protection to no longer require every person in a 5km radius to be alerted of the trains’ presence.

The works in New West have been painfully slow. There were a few engineering challenges, including the need to order some special equipment that could only be provided by a supplier approved by a railway. The multiple steps of design, pre-approval, engineering drawings, waiting for clearance, approvals to work in the right of way, waiting for the rail company to do the bits only they are authorized to do, getting authorization to do the bits we are authorized to do… it was painful.

However, I am happy to announce that the City has officially notified all of the stakeholders who need to be informed* that the City will officially request that Whistle Cessation be brought into effect for the two Front Street crossings through a resolution at Council scheduled for February 6th, 2017.

There are also three level crossings in Sapperton, and I have no idea when whistle cessation will be brought to those. The engineering requirements as far as sight lines and approach angles for cars under the Skytrain pillars are such that it appears simply impossible to meet any existing regular whistle-free standard. We will try, and new road infrastructure along that corridor will be viewed through a lens of whistle cessation, but barring radical ideas, I’m not making any promises about when that will actually occur.

*The list of Stakeholders who were officially served letters informing them of the City’ intentions for the February 7th meeting included the four rail companies that regularly operate on that line, plus PLM Railcar Management Services (Canada) Ltd.; PROCOR Ltd.; General Electric Railcar Services Corporation; the Canadian Fertilizer Institute; the Canadian Chemical Producers Association; the United Transportation Union; the Transportation Communications International Union Systems Board; UNIFOR; Teamsters Canada Rail Conference; Travailleurs Unis Transport (1843); the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union; GATX Rail Canada; Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 279; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and the Propane Gas Association of Canada Inc. Dear God I hope we haven’t missed anyone. It’s absurd.

Tree loss & protection

A few years back when I was still complaining about the City’s lack of action on a Tree Bylaw, I pointed out the presence of a great beech trees on my street. This was one of three, gigantic, more than 100 years old, trunks more than a metre across. They provide so many benefits to the neighbourhood and the community: shade, noise abatement, wildlife habitat, storm water detention, cooling the air.

These three had “heritage” protection, so they were unlikely to be capriciously removed, but that limited protection was not afforded to most trees in the City. The vast majority were afforded almost no protection – if the landowner chose to remove them, she was good to go. A Bylaw was needed, and through the lengthy development of an Urban Forest Management Strategy, these newly-monikered “specimen trees” are protected from removal by short-term thinking.

I was shocked last week when a neighbour came over to complain to me that the City had allowed one of the three grand beech trees to be removed. “I thought there was a Bylaw!”

Alas, I wandered over to the property in question, and indeed one of the three is no more. No more than pile of alarmingly large slices of wood, as the arbourists were working on site clean-up. I noticed a Tree Removal Permit attached to the house, so clearly they got permission, but I felt the loss as much as my concerned neighbour. So I called up staff and we have had some discussions about this tree.

*I am trying to be careful here, because the homeowner who owned the tree did not do anything wrong, and I don’t want to cause them embarrassment or any kind of trouble, but a few people have asked me about the loss of this tree, and now there is a story in the Paper, so I felt like I needed to comment about it here. It will be difficult to tell the story without providing clues about the location, and I think people need to know the story of the loss of a community asset like this. So please, be respectful of the homeowner who – I’ll say it again – did nothing wrong here. If you feel the need to act out or speak up or react negatively, do it to me and Council, not them. Thanks.*

The story of this tree is that it was suffering from senescence, which is the technical way of saying it was dying of old age. I don’t want to get into the detailed description given by the arbourist, partly because I’m not an arbourist and may not clearly translate their terminology, and partly because there are probably FOIPPA issues in releasing a report provided to the City without passing it through the privacy protection filter.

The now-gone tree in 2011, looking pretty happy. (ripped from Google Street View, no permission requested)
The now-gone tree in 2011, looking pretty happy. (ripped from Google Street View, no permission requested)

Our efforts to look back are, fortunately, assisted by technology. Google Street View has photos both from 2011 and from 2016 on adjacent streets. The visible decline of the tree is obvious. It looked (again, to my untrained eye) healthy in 2011, but by 2016, the leaves are sparse and diminutive, many branches looking bare. There was quite a bit more evidence of decline in the arborist report, but there is no doubt this tree was not very happy.

The same tree in June, 2016, looking sparse and lob-sided at a time of year when it should be in fill bloom. (also ripped from Google Street View)
The same tree in June, 2016, looking sparse and lob-sided at a time of year when it should be in fill bloom. (also ripped from Google Street View)

The contributing factors to a tree like this entering full-plant senescence are usually multiple. Sometimes there is an attack by a pest, and the drought-like conditions we have experienced for a couple of summers probably hurt the resiliency of the tree. It is possible (I’m just speculating here) that poor pruning practice or damage to the roots for home improvements may have also been a factor, further reducing the ability of the tree to cope with declining productivity.

In the end, the things that made the tree so majestic – its great size and hulking branches – are the things that made it a “hazardous tree” once that decline began. The arbourist did not think this was a temporary setback, and that recovery was unlikely. what was more likely was continued decline until the branches started to collapse, potentially onto a building or person. The homeowner got a permit, had a tree health assessment done, and received permission to cut the tree down.

As this is a “specimen” size tree, and a hazardous one, Schedule A of the Bylaw indicates that the homeowner is required to replace the tree, and the City collects security to assure that replacement takes place. Of course, putting a new dogwood or birch sapling in the place does not really “replace” a 100+ year old giant like what was lost. It will be decades until the replacement starts to provide the mass of benefits that the old tree did. But even this replacement policy did not exist before the Bylaw.

Which bring me to the point – the Tree Protection Bylaw does not mean no trees will ever be removed again. What it means is that the City has applied measures (call it Red Tape if you are so inclined) to act as disincentives to the removal of trees, and to provide compensation to the community for trees lost. When it comes to private property, that is about as far as we can go as a City. It has proven to work in other jurisdictions, though.

The Bylaw is only one part of our Urban Forest Management Strategy, but it is an important part, and this fall Council will be taking a closer look at the Bylaw application to see where it can be strengthened, and where it needs to be relaxed to make it more functional for residents. If you have opinions one way or another, please send Mayor and Council an e-mail or letter.

On consulting the community

No, my report for this week’s council meeting is not done. Almost. I need to dot a few “t”s and cross a few “i”s, as it is a long report full of difficult spelling, and Le Tour is on TV. The delay is now extended because I have to spend a bit of time retorting a silly letter to the newspaper.

A relatively well-known local politician wrote to complain that the City’s new Food Truck Bylaw was approved, apparently without his knowledge.

Several parts of this letter were, frankly, baffling. To sum up:

“Why would our city council approve legislation without prior discussion with residents and businesses affected by this bylaw?

It was a year ago when the City first permitted a temporary pilot project to evaluate how Food Trucks may or may not fit in our local context. After a launch of the pilot proved promising, Council asked staff to start public consultations to inform a permitting process and bylaw structure in case the pilot was successful. Both of these stories were well reported by the very newspaper where this incensed letter to the editor was published. As was this update six months later, once the pilot was completed along with the first round of public consultation, and Council had an opportunity to comment on some of the potential policy framework.

In between these reports, the City launched an on-line survey with more than 450 respondents, including both businesses and residents, and received feedback on what types of restrictions or controls might be appropriate. The survey was advertised at the Pilot Food truck location, in that same familiar newspaper, and posters at City facilities. A City webpage dedicated to the consultation was set up, including a comprehensive FAQ section. The results were put together into a draft set of policies, that were then taken back to the public for another survey, stakeholder meetings and an Open House.

The City mailed out special invitations to the Chamber of Commerce, both BIAs, and the two other neighbourhood business associations,asking that the information be circulated to their members and inviting feedback. A special survey was set up specifically to target brick-and-mortar business owners, and circulated through their associations, and of course advertised in the newspaper, on-line, and through social media. Just to be sure, the City mailed out 2,043 postcards – one to every business address in the City – to seek their input. We even had a stakeholder group of business owners, representing each of the business areas of the City, sit down together for workshops to go through concerns and provide more guidance to the policy documents.

Further, staff evaluated best practices from other communities, in the Lower Mainland and further afield, to determine what has worked and what hasn’t for different jurisdictions, and to identify pitfalls that may arise that were not caught by the Pilot program. They talked to other Cities, and to food service companies, and used that input to develop detailed policy documents.

Staff then held a heavily-advertised Community Open House, even providing a couple of food trucks at the Anvil Centre location to give people a first-hand look at what the program would offer. The City partnered with journalism students from Langara and Douglas Colleges to create media pieces and social media buzz to attract people to take part in the Open house and the larger consultation process.

Through this entire process, staff kept Council (and the public) informed through public reports on July 13, 2015 (where the Pilot program was described), January 11, 2016 (where the first survey and consultation reports were outlined), April 18, 2016, (where the second phase of consultation and open house were reported out), and May 30, 2016, where the Draft Bylaw was given two readings, and the Public Hearing was formally announced for one month hence. (I won’t mention the Reports to the Land Use and Planning Committee on September 14 and December 7, 2015, because although they are publically posted and open to the public, few bother to attend. Further, they only recommend to Council, they don’t make decisions).

Now, go back up and read that quote. Any reasonable person would have to conclude we had “prior discussion with residents and businesses”. But there’s more:

“I believe that this decision is dictatorial and totally opposed to open governance and transparency. When a zoning bylaw change is to be considered, all property owners within a specific distance of the project property need to be informed of the pending bylaw changes and when the matter will be brought before council.

“As well, anyone who feels that they are impacted by the change is allowed to express their opinions before council prior to a vote on the bylaw change.

“I believe that this new bylaw did not receive the same consideration and therefore should be struck down until it is brought before all those taxpayers who are directly affected by its passage.”

Actually, after the year of public consultation listed above, this Bylaw went to Public Hearing, much the same process as any rezoning would. It isn’t actually a rezoning, and that level review was probably not strictly required by legislation, but the City did it anyway, because the City is demonstrably committed to open governance and transparency.

I am proud of the high standard we set for consultation in New West, but at some point we need to stop talking and start acting on the results of that consultation. If in 6 months this idea proves to not work out, if our business community tells us that some parts of the new policy just don’t work, Council is free to adapt or rescind the Bylaw and go back to the original restrictions. Some people fear innovation, but I think we need to take a few well-considered chances to continue to improve the activity of our streets, which is a great way to support our business community. We can’t be held back by uninformed cynicism.

“The people of our community should determine where in the community we would prefer to locate the operation of food trucks, not city staff, many of whom do not live in our community”

I need to reiterate: This was a process first driven by the elected City Council (we directed staff to put together a consultation process, then to draft a Bylaw that would allow Food Trucks to operate), then modified after repeated consultations with the residents and businesses of the City. There was a Pilot Project, supported by a business in the City. There was a planning session where businesses in the City were invited to provide input into what elements of a Bylaw ere needed, and where appropriate locations for food Trucks would be. We had a Public Hearing where all of two people came to talk to the Bylaw, both residents and business owners, and both spoke in favour of Food Trucks. We received no negative feedback in that Public Hearing, which tells me City Staff did a pretty great job covering their bases.

Our staff busted their asses to put together a Bylaw package that satisfied Council’s desire to support Food Trucks in our Commercial areas, and addressed concerns and ideas raised by the residents and businesses in this City over more than a year of consultation. At no step was this a staff-driven process. The letter writer’s inappropriate an uninformed attempt to belittle or dismiss the work they did, and his implication that they were indifferent to community feedback, is disconnected from reality.

On a positive note, this provides me one more opportunity to link to this remarkably apropos opinion piece by Stephen Quinn, which is a much better retort to this letter than I could ever pen.

Ask Pat: City Vehicles

Someone asked—

Hey Pat, recently heard that (according to the bylaw office) city vehicles are not required to obey parking regulations or bylaws and can ultimately park anywhere they want, at any time, for whatever reason with impunity. Is this really true?

The bylaw officer was right, but I think you may be reading too much into it.

The City’s Street Traffic Bylaw regulates who can park where. The Bylaw is a little long-in-tooth, and a new one is being drafted up right now (hopefully ready by the end of the summer), but for now, it is the best we have.

Section 400 of the Bylaw outlines the various parking regulations, and the following parts are relevant to your question:

413. Notwithstanding anything elsewhere contained in this bylaw, the provisions relating to stopping or parking of vehicles shall not apply to:
413.1 vehicles used in conjunction with the servicing of public utilities including telephone systems, electric systems, natural gas systems and cablevision systems;
413.2 municipal and other Government vehicles;
413.3 towing service vehicles; or
413.4 armored carriers;
while such vehicles are actually engaged in works of necessity on a street requiring them to be stopped or parked. This exemption does not relieve the drivers of such vehicles from taking due precautions to indicate the presence of such vehicles on the street while so parked or stopped.

So as long as the City Vehicle is being used for City business, and needs to be parked there to get that business done, then it is exempt from the laws. The driver is expected, however, to practice due diligence and take reasonable safety precautions while exercising that exemption. So I wouldn’t say it is total impunity, but it is pretty relaxed.

And really, do we want the City charging the City to park? Who needs the paperwork, and who is served by it?

Ask Pat: Crappy Park

Someone asked—

Hi Pat, I am just inquiring about Sullivan Park on Oliver Street here in the Queen’s Park neighbourhood. It is a lovely park and really close to our home. However, I am noticing that there is a lot of dog dropping being left all around the park. I am not sure if this particular park is monitored but something needs to be done. It is horrible. I refuse to take my 14 month old there anymore as I am worried he is going to fall into it.. or worse. Anything you can do for us?

Shh! I didn’t think we were allowed to talk about Sullivan Park. It’s one of those neighbourhood secrets that we aren’t supposed to let anyone know about.

One general rule about a persistent dog-crap problem in a location is that it is probably just one person. Most dog owners are responsible and don’t want crap lying around any more than the rest of us, but one or two bad apples definitely can result in a lot of… uh… road apples. Unfortunately, catching that one person is probably near impossible.

My first suggestion is to use SeeClickFix when you run into a problem like this, to make sure it gets onto the City operations radar. If you aren’t a smart-phone lover, you can use this on-line form to make sure your issue gets tracked and followed up on. Or call Parks, Culture and Recreation at 604-527-4567.

What can Parks do? That is definitely a small park, and we have limited staff, so 24-hour patrols are not likely in the offing. I am not as familiar with Sullivan Park as my Queens Park neighbours, but having a doggie station with a ready source of collection bags, trash receptacle and signage will usually help most people do the right thing – if the park doesn’t have these at the one or two most common entry point, that may help. Of course, it may also encourage more people to see Sullivan as an unofficial “dog run”, which comes with its own issues.

As it is a unique spot, with a relatively small group of users (until you went and let the secret out!), it might be interesting to see if the neighbourhood has any ideas how to approach the issue. Better signage? Neighbourhood dog-watch? As a non-dog owner, I’m happy to hear suggestions!