Mayor Mike Morden has presented his new strategic plan. (THE NEWS/files)

Panhandling bylaw, community court part of Maple Ridge strategic plan

Council plots out its next four years, will get public input.

Maple Ridge council has hammered out its general goals and now wants to hear what the public thinks about its grand plan for the next four years.

Mayor Michael Morden presented his new strategic plan “for discussion and feedback” Tuesday, seeking council’s OK to send it to out to the public for its ideas.

The plan is two pages long, composed of five points: community safety; community pride and spirit; intergovernmental relations; growth management; and natural environment.

With community safety at the top of the list, the strategy calls for restorative justice, to have a community court serving Maple Ridge, and an anti-panhandling bylaw.

Maple Ridge already has a Restorative Justice program operated by Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services that gives youth up to 24 years old accused of petty crimes options to enroll in programs to avoid criminal prosecution.

“We want to explore what abilities we have. It’s not lost on council that people will steal to support drugs and commit a lot of theft to support addictions. Does it make sense to send them to jail? No, course not,” Morden said Monday. What makes sense is to help people make better decisions, he added.

He acknowledges that a decision to have access to a community court, that deals with petty crimes related to addiction, is a provincial government decision but said the city is already advocating for that.

“We’d like to do our part in order to turn people’s lives around, if you will.”

As for an anti-panhandling bylaw, Morden said it may not be possible to ban panhandling in general but notes a bylaw against “aggressive panhandling” could be possible.

“It’s a council conversation that we’ve got to have but we want a safe environment for our citizens to go shopping and conduct their business in the downtown. That’s a requirement as far as I’m concerned, it’s not negotiable.”

Currently, there is no anti-panhandling bylaw in Maple Ridge, he said.

Morden acknowledges that people sitting on a sidewalk are not being aggressive or bothering people.

“I think there needs to be sensibility about how we approach this.”

The City of Vancouver’s Street and Traffic Bylaw, bans people from blocking sidewalks, harassing people after they’ve initially said no or approaching people in groups of three or more.

When it comes to inter-governmental relations, one objective is to ensure “accountability mechanisms” are in place for supportive housing and other services to “minimize negative neighbourhood impacts.”

Morden last year opposed the opening of the 53-unit supportive housing complex on Royal Crescent.

He wants measures in place that will affect the operation of the complex, which is covered by the Residential Tenancy Act.

For example, if a resident isn’t following the plan he or she signed on to as part of getting a unit, “then that place needs to be given up and needs to be assigned to someone who does want to move forward in their lives and is keen to go through a process with service providers. I think tools need to be made available to facilitate those things.”

In other complexes not covered by the Residential Tenancy Act, if people don’t follow their plan, they get evicted, he pointed out.

Cycling rules and bicycle lanes also could be reviewed under the new strategic plan. Maple Ridge allows cycling on sidewalks on downtown sidewalks, and that’s getting a lot of complaints, he said.

He’s critical of the bi-directional cycle path on 203rd Street, between Dewdney Trunk Road and Powell Avenue.

Morden said the street, which is an arterial road, has no pull outs for buses, while half of the road is used for bike lanes and sidewalks. “Did we get it right and we need to take a look at that.”

Other bike lanes also could be reviewed. “I want to review the policy that drives all of those things.”

“We’ve got a lot of congestion problems. So we need to make sure … that we’ve got something that’s going to work for everyone.”

The strategic plan also calls for pursuing a new hotel to be built somewhere in Maple Ridge along with some post-secondary education.

It also calls for reviewing tandem parking, (townhouse units that have cars parked behind each other) the zoning bylaw, and development and election signs.

When it comes to the environment, the plan envisages more focus along the Fraser River and to c0ntinue working with the Alouette River Ecosystem Partnership, the main goal of which is to create a fish passageway to connect the South Alouette River to the Alouette Lake Reservoir.

Regarding the fish passageway, “It’s been a long time coming and a lot of people have put a lot of work into this and I think that BC Hydro and the First Nations along with ARMS, will get it right,” Morden said.

Under the community pride and spirit part of the strategic plan, the goal is to “engage the public in positive activities … to enhance the vibrancy of the community.”

That could be done by suggestions that include increasing the number of downtown festivals, implementing the culture plan and find the best way to handle citizen petitions.

The new Council Code of Conduct, approved late last year and which sets out standards for councillors, is part of the strategic plan, as is a list of the city’s five core values: Leadership, Service, Reputation, Human Resources, Community and Stewardship.

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