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Park board ‘not equipped’ to handle Oppenheimer Park problems: Vancouver mayor

Tents at Vancouvers Oppenheimer Park on Aug. 16, 2019.
Tents at Vancouvers Oppenheimer Park on Aug. 16, 2019. Global News

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart wants the city to temporarily assume direct authority over a park that’s been the site of an entrenched homeless camp.

Stewart said Tuesday that the Vancouver Park Board, which holds jurisdiction over Oppenheimer Park, is “not equipped to solve social problems.”

The move comes as the city continues to grapple with safety concerns about the encampment, which peaked after a shooting across the street from the park in July.

The city says it’s also seen at least 17 fires in the park since February, and Vancouver police say they won’t patrol the park in groups of fewer than four.

READ MORE: More than 100 Oppenheimer Park campers moved into housing, but rest say they won’t move

The mayor said the board does well at maintaining parks and operating services, but lacks the links to senior levels of government he said were needed to address the Oppenheimer issue.

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WATCH: Deadline for clearing Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park passes

Deadline for clearing Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park passes
Deadline for clearing Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park passes

“I met with the prime minister on Friday, the chair of the park board did not meet with the prime minister on Friday,” said Stewart.

“That is the disadvantage of how when we have major social problems that erupt in parks, the park board is not resourced and they don’t have access to other levels of government in order to negotiate a full package or plan.”

READ MORE: Neighbours to Oppenheimer Park homeless camp call on city to speed up response

Stewart added direct control of the park would allow him to come up with a “full plan” for Oppenheimer.

On Tuesday, Stewart said the holdouts may require “a little extra nudge” to move, but stopped short of saying the city would seek a court injunction.

Park board chair Stewart Mackinnon declined to comment on the mayor’s pitch, saying he would need to speak with staff and colleagues for input.

WATCH: Campers prepare to leave Oppenheimer park before final deadline

Campers prepare to leave Oppenheimer park before final deadline
Campers prepare to leave Oppenheimer park before final deadline

However, Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Park Commissioner John Coupar said Stewart’s initiative was surprising.

“Frankly, if you look along Hastings Street, I think the mayor has a lot of work to do there before he starts taking over parks,” said Coupar.

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“It would take a two-thirds vote of council and park board for that to happen and I think that is highly unlikely.”

The city ordered tents and structures cleared from the park last month, and began moving campers into housing — but about 40 tents remain and dozens of people continue to live there.

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