The new Vision council promised to stop putting city money into paying for private security guards in the city’s business districts and it’s about to carry out that promise tomorrow — after hearing from speakers on the subject.
If you have a strong opinion, hop on down to the 9:30 committee meeting tomorrow, although I seriously doubt anything you have to say will change their minds. But you’ll get to practice your public speaking skills and, who knows, someday they might have an impact somewhere else.
For those not in the know, the Downtown Ambassadors were a creation of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association back in 2000. They’re those guys and gals in the red and black jackets who roam around, sometimes helping tourists, sometimes making sure that a particularly energetic panhandler isn’t scaring anyone, and generally keeping an eye on the street.
For the first several years, they were paid for from the fees that the BIAs levy on their business members. Then the idea popped into someone’s head that it would be good for the city to help pay for them, since they help maintain order and safety in various parts of the city.
The previous council put money into expanding the downtown program, then agreed just prior to last fall’s election to help pay for similar Downtown Ambassadors in 15 other business districts, at a cost of $500,000 a year. I understand there was high anxiety just after the election over whether senior managers were merrily finalizing those contracts, locking them in.
But, apparently not. They’ve weren’t signed and now the motion is to not proceed with them. That is certain to upset some business owners in the districts. I know that in Gastown, they very much like the Ambassadors, who come around frequently and get to know every character in the neighbourhood.
The question for everyone, though, is not: Is this a good program? I think people think it is, in general, except for some complaints that have been publicized about how street people or not-upscale-enough-looking residents get treated.
The question is: Who should pay for them? Are they just a service that mainly benefits the businesses, and so they should be paid for, as they have been exclusively in the past, by BIA fees? Or are they a general benefit, something that serves a lot of residents and visitors to Vancouver and therefore should be paid for by general tax dollars. (And I’m not even going to get into the question of whether the question of whether this is just privatizing or contracting out police services.)