Two weeks after the passage of the Palo Alto's landmark law to ban smoking at all local parks, the Parks and Recreation Commission recommended the city allow designated smoking areas in three of the city's largest parks, ban smoking in its open-space areas and allow smoking at the municipal golf course.
When it came to designated smoking areas in city parks, however, the commission was divided. It voted 3-2, with commissioners Abbie Knopper and Diedre Crommie dissenting and commissioners Stacey Ashlund and Ed Lauing absent, to recommend smoking areas only in Palo Alto's three largest parks -- Rinconada, Mitchell and Greer.
The decisions went against city staff's recommendation not to allow smoking areas in city parks. Staff had said that smoking sections would would be challenging to enforce, costly to implement and not encourage healthy behaviors.
Greg Betts, director of community services, said it could cost $8,000-10,000 to set up an area's signs, benches and fireproof containers for cigarette butts. He said he'd rather see that money go to enhance parks in other ways.
A complete smoking ban would also result in cleaner air, reduced fire hazard and fewer cigarette butts ingested by wildlife, Betts added.
Daren Anderson, the city's manager of open space, parks and golf, said designated smoking areas would "weaken and defeat" the smoking ban by blurring the lines of what is allowable and what is not. An all-out ban would be more easily enforceable, he said.
But several of the commissioners felt that the absence of designated smoking areas would unfairly punish local smokers.
Commissioner Keith Reckdahl said he thought the city would be stretching its power too far by enacting a total ban and suggested trying the smoking areas for a year to see if any major problems ensue.
Commissioner Jennifer Hetterly said removing places for people to smoke outdoors would force them indoors, where the health risks could affect family and neighbors more severely.
But Betts said a walk from the center of any of the city's parks to the street, where smoking is legal, takes between two-and-a-half to four minutes.
Knopper, who lives near a local park, said a walk to the sidewalk for a smoke is a minor inconvenience.
"You could crawl on your hands and knees and be at the edge of the park," she said.
Commissioner Pat Markevitch agreed with the ban in the city's open-space areas as a means of preventing fires but was concerned with what she called a statewide trend of "nanny laws" that punish legal behavior.
"It's not illegal to smoke," she said. "These people aren't criminals."
The other commissioners echoed the importance of prioritizing fire avoidance in the city's dry open-space areas.
While the 17-acre municipal golf course was also spared a smoking ban, certain high-traffic areas -- such as the putting green or driving range -- might be considered for bans.
"I think it's a dangerous proposition to ban smoking on a brand-new golf course where you're trying to build a clientele," Hetterly said. "We don't want them saying, 'Palo Alto is too snooty, so we'll smoke our stogies at another course.'"
Knopper said a ban on smoking at the course might detract from some golfers' fun.
"Smoking, drinking and playing golf is like chocolate and peanut butter -- it's awesome for lots of people," she said.
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