April 2, 2009 in City

City parks smoking ban holds but hearing planned

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Public hearing
What: City of Spokane Parks and Recreation hearing regarding tobacco-free parks

When: April 9, 1-3:30 p.m. during the regular monthly Park Board meeting

Where: Council Chambers, City Hall Lower Level, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

The Spokane Park Board has banned smoking in city parks. Sort of.

It might change its mind next Thursday after a public hearing. But don’t count on it.

If the smoking ban holds, a person who lights up in a city park might get the evil eye, or maybe a good talking-to from someone who disapproves. But there won’t be any tickets or fines.

The Park Board was asked last month by the Spokane Health District and Teens Against Smoking to ban smoking in Riverfront Park. The board scheduled a hearing, which was sparsely attended, where supporters from those two groups said a ban would send a healthy message to the community. One opponent – Bill Burke, who produces the annual food festival Pig Out in the Park – argued it would be unenforceable, according to parks spokeswoman Nancy Goodspeed.

The board generally sided with a smoking ban, but thought it would probably be appropriate to phase in for all city parks. Last week, at a special 7 a.m. meeting to sign the contracts for two park bond projects, talk of the smoking ban came up again even though it wasn’t on the agenda.

The board members all agreed, and voted unanimously for an all-park smoking ban – start time and phase-in to be worked out later. On Friday, the City Parks and Recreation Department sent out a news release announcing the ban.

Then at least one board member questioned whether the panel had actually taken a final vote on the ban and followed the appropriate process. Other board members were certain that they had voted, definitively and properly, to ban smoking.

The Park Board’s attorney, Pat Dalton, was consulted, Goodspeed said, and he assured the board that even though the policy wasn’t on the agenda for the meeting at which it was adopted, it was OK because it passed in an open session.

Wednesday morning city Parks and Recreation reiterated the board had approved a smoking ban. Wednesday afternoon, the Park Board was officially “taking a step back” and reconsidering the ban.

Although the process passed muster, Park Board members began having doubts that they’d given the public enough opportunity to address the topic, Goodspeed said Thursday. They scheduled a meeting for 1 p.m. next Thursday, to hear public testimony and take “a final vote.”

Or more accurately, a final, final vote.

Because the board has already voted to make the parks “tobacco-free,” it’s unclear what opponents might say next Thursday that would make the board reverse the ban.

“That is the issue I don’t have an answer for,” Goodspeed said.

Barring a significant change of heart by a majority of the board, the ban would start first at Riverfront Park, at some undetermined date.

It would then move to other city parks some time later, and finally, to the municipal golf courses.

The tobacco ban is a policy, not an ordinance, so it doesn’t need approval by the City Council, Goodspeed said. Because of that, there will be no fine or jail time attached to lighting up in a park. The department will post “no smoking” signs – after it finds some money, either in its budget or from a benefactor – and will rely on peer pressure and “friendly reminders” to enforce the ban.

Staff writer Jim Camden can be reached at (509) 459-5461 or by e-mail at jimc@spokesman.com

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