Singing in the streets could get a little more difficult in downtown Kelowna.
City council is considering a bylaw that would affect buskers and panhandlers.
Under the proposed new rules, street performers would need to produce a permit, and they would be limited to specific busking stops in the downtown area.
Downtown busker Michael Elliott is surprised city administration suggested the new bylaws without speaking with street performers first. He’s also concerned the proposed changes might mean relying too heavily on individual bylaw officers’ discretion.
“When I received a ticket last year, I tried to complain through appropriate channels to city council. However, there are no appropriate channels to complain about a bylaw officer. You literally get laughed at if you call bylaw on bylaw themselves,” he said.
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But Kelowna’s mayor said he trusts the judgment of bylaw officers when it comes to enforcing the rules.
“We aren’t sending bylaw to ticket people. We’re not a no-fun city,” Colin Basran said. “Our bylaw people really try to come to compliance with somebody they’re dealing with a complaint on, than just issuing a ticket, and I think that’s the big thing being lost in all of this.”
The new bylaw is about striking a balance between creating conditions for people to earn money while keeping performers, panhandlers and the public safe, he added.
“I want to make it clear that we are not criminalizing street entertainers or panhandlers, but we have heard from people – business owners and pedestrians – that there needs to be some enforceable line between entertaining and generating too much noise or being disruptive,” he said.
Kelowna city Coun. Charlie Hodge voted against the bylaw during Monday’s meeting.
“I think what this is, is an attempt to try to solve a small problem with a large hammer,” Hodge said.
“I saw this as an almost draconian backwards step. We spent a lot of time in the last 10 years to rejuvenate downtown, bringing life into downtown and I feel that a lot of potential changes to the bylaws are actually going to do the opposite.”
Under the proposed new bylaws, those who give money to panhandlers at traffic lights or bottles within 500 metres of a bottle depot could face a $250 fine.
The City of Kelowna has received 155 complaints about buskers since 2010, but tickets have only been issued four times.
The new bylaw has not been passed. Basran said the city will be speaking with buskers and other stakeholders before any final changes are made.