John Cassidy, Galaxy Motors reconditioning manager, kneels by a fence destroyed by vandals who live in camps on a bluff behind the business’ location and others who take a shortcut from Bastion Street to Terminal Avenue under the Bastion Street bridge. The company spends more than $1,200 per month to repair kicked-in vehicle doors and smashed side-view mirrors. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

City and automotive businesses battling downtown vandalism

Chain link fence topped with barbed wire to block access under Bastion Street bridge

A chain link fence topped with barbed wire will be erected by the city to help downtown automotive businesses curb vandalism.

It’s not uncommon for the staff at Galaxy Motors in downtown Nanaimo to find vehicle doors kicked in and side-view mirrors smashed off.

The property at 303 Terminal Ave., located under the Bastion Street bridge, is the company’s service facility where incoming used vehicles are inspected and reconditioned before they’re sent to sales lots in Nanaimo and Duncan.

John Cassidy, Galaxy Motors reconditioning manager, said vandalism has been a problem since the facility moved there three years ago and he says much of it is committed by homeless people living in camps on a heavily wooded bluff next to the bridge and between Galaxy Motors and Gold Automotive at the corner of Bastion and Wallace streets.

“When they come through they’re kicking our door mirrors and damaging our cars, pulling our fence down,” Cassidy said. “You know, I have a heavy heart for people who have no place to live. It gets a little frustrating, though, when you’re dealing with people who aren’t of good nature and we just seem to be caught between the bylaw and the RCMP.”

The company currently shells out $1,200 per month or more to repair damaged vehicles. With a $5,000 commercial insurance deductible, it’s easier to cover damage out of pocket rather than file insurance claims.

Cassidy said police are good at responding when called – one man was arrested Dec. 3 when a witness spotted him kicking mirrors off of cars and called police – but finding a solution to the problem has been difficult. The city won’t allow trees, which hold the soil on the bluff in place, to be cut to remove hiding places and when garbage is left by individuals on the portions of the bluff owned by Galaxy Motors and Gold Automotive, the city issues orders for those companies to clean it up.

“We feel like we’re trying to secure an area that doesn’t have anything to do with us, being under the bridge, but does have an effect on our ability to run a business,” Cassidy said. “That’s the tough part for us … It’s just a cost of doing business in the old quarter and really it doesn’t lend itself to being an attractive location to build a business,” he said. “It’s too bad because I like the old quarter and I wish we had a better strategy to help these people that need help and discourage the vandalism.”

The city bylaws department has agreed to put up a fence to block access from beside the Bastion Street bridge, but that has been slow in coming.

Bryan Main, Gold Automotive owner, agrees the city needs to install a high, strong fence to block access points on its property below and beside the bridge and he and Galaxy Motors have already agreed to build new fences on their portions of the bluff. Cassidy estimates Galaxy’s section of fence will cost about $10,000.

“Why can’t they build a fence – one, two, maybe three sides – extending under the bridge to prevent [homeless people] from entering there?” Main asked.

A fence, Main admits, won’t solve all the problems from which the area is suffering.

A woman addicted to methamphetamines broke into a van on the Gold Automotive lot over the Remembrance Day weekend, according to Nanaimo RCMP. She was rushed to hospital with severe burns smoke inhalation after she started a fire in the vehicle.

“There’s certain things you can’t avoid because of the area we’re in … but in the meantime, the problem down there is the fence,” Main said.

David Myles, city manager of roads and traffic services, said Friday the city has contacted a contractor to have a chain-link fence, topped with barbed wire constructed to block off access points near the top of the bridge on Bastion Street and next to Galaxy Motors’ lot on Terminal Avenue at an estimated cost of about $4,800.

“The fencing contractor has been advised to go ahead and they’re hoping to get it done before Christmas,” Myles said.

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