Some Palo Alto parks may get 'smoking havens'

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.

The commission voted unanimously for the open-space smoking ban but decided not to significantly change smoking regulations at the Palo Alto municipal golf course on Embarcadero Road.

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.


Posted by Sam, a resident of Southgate
on May 29, 2013 at 3:48 am

Ban smoking in all public parks and rec areas including the Palo Alto golf course. 'Snooty?' I'd say smart is more like it.

Smoking, and second hand smoke, is deadly.

What is it you don't understand?

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 29, 2013 at 4:02 am

I don't understand how parks can have barbeques if we outlaw smoke.

Posted by Sick-Of-Bad-Science, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2013 at 7:38 am

> Smoking, and second hand smoke, is deadly.

Smoking is indeed deadly--no question.

But being exposed to second hand smoke in a park once in a while?


Has any ever seen an obituary that claimed that the deceased was the victim of "second hand smoke"? Or a death certificate, for that matter.

People making such claims should be forced to prove their words.

Posted by Adrian, a resident of College Terrace
on May 29, 2013 at 8:51 am

This whole thing is ridiculous. First of all, not that many people smoke in PA parks. When they do, I find most of them fairly respectful of others. (Perhaps we could reduce butts by providing more trash bins).

Secondly, the city was originally going to ban smoking in parks less than 5 acres, but then on a whim, banned smoking in all city parks. (Web Link)

Now, the city is looking at establishing "smoke-ok" zones in city parks, with signs costing $8,000-10,000. Does anyone else think this is a silly process?

Posted by Bill, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on May 29, 2013 at 9:05 am

The Park and Rec Commission is forever 'clueless". One time when discussing the golf fees, a member asked "What is a "T" (tee) time?" Another...."What is a 'round of golf'? Cigarette butts on the fairways and greens are not pretty. The Canada geese will eat anything.

Posted by Sam, a resident of Southgate
on May 29, 2013 at 10:38 am

Palo Alto gets it, smoking is unhealthy (and dumb) for the smoker and all around him or her.

It increases our medical costs, shortens lives, increases cleaning bills, lowers car and home values, requires maintenance, signage, and special areas to accommodate the dumbest on earth.

I don't think so, nor do Palo Alto Council members, who will shoot this ill-conceived idea down fast.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 29, 2013 at 10:41 am

Best message Palo Alto can send would be to stop selling cigarettes.
This would put us in a national leadership position on the subject.
Much more important than banning plastic bags.
If medicinal marijuana can not be sold here, then cigarettes absolutely should not be sold here.
We know what is in marijuana, we do not know and can not find out what is in cigarettes.
Look at websites of cigarette companies and try to find out what is in cigarettes. They call it a "trade secret", so what a person breathes into their lungs is unknown and what they breathe out for the rest of us to breathe is unknown.
Logical thought on the matter leads to the conclusion that banning cigarettes would be forward thinking and the best direct protection for the health of the Palo Alto community.
And I do understand and sympathize with those suffering from cigarette addiction.
And I do support allowing areas for smokers so long as Palo Alto continues to sell and profit from cigarettes.

Posted by Henry, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 29, 2013 at 10:54 am

I am so glad that the Parks and Recreation Commission is showing some common sense here. Brush fires caused by smoking may be a huge risk (and fully warrant a ban) in Foothills Park and the Baylands, but for city parks like Mitchell and Rinconada it is merely a cynical pretext for those who wish to impose their puritanism on their fellow man. "Cleaner air" my foot.

Posted by Sigh, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 29, 2013 at 11:20 am

Sigh, another rule that has no teeth! Plenty of people still smoke in areas that they are not supposed to.....personally I am afraid of confronting them.
Maybe the money would be better spent in upgrading the parks instead...put in a tennis wall or court at Robles park for example.....we have wante one there for ages now...

Posted by Changed Times, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 29, 2013 at 11:50 am

a place for medical cannabis users to medicate. Well done.

Posted by Raymond, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 29, 2013 at 11:56 am

I am willing to bet that some of the comments here are from the same 'less government' types, when it comes to taxes, birth control and other Liberal ideals.

As usual, 'more' government for things Conservatives value, and 'less' government when it opposes their ideals.

Posted by Sam, a resident of Barron Park
on May 29, 2013 at 11:59 am

Played The Ranch Golf Club last weekend. The course and scenery were awesome, but, the day, over 5 hours, was a disaster as our twosome was paired with two chain (no exaggeration) smokers. Not only were butts left indiscriminately, but, they stood over putts on the green while sharing their effluvium. All fair game and legal according to a few on this thread.

Regrettably, I did not have chili for breakfast to share...that's organic.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Smoke moves with the air. It smells disgusting. I had a bit yellow film on the whites of my eyes from working in a smoky bar when I was young. Palo Alto Clinic Doctor diagnosis, not mine. Allowing people to smoke near others is a dopey idea.

Posted by Randie, a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2013 at 12:34 pm

I totally agree with another comment - ban the sale of cigarettes in Palo Alto if you want to make a real difference. People are going to smoke regardless of expensive signage.

Posted by Floyd, a resident of Green Acres
on May 29, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Smoke by its nature is detrimental to health,stinks and moves about at will and then there's the wind to help move it along.
great for the kids that inhabit the parks.
Why accommodate such a bad habit?

Posted by Joel, a resident of Barron Park
on May 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Joel is a registered user.

Once again Greg Betts shows his expertise in the matter of Parks and their usage. Blows my mind that the most of commissioners closed their minds to his right on arguments.
Former Parks and Recreation Commissioner

Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of University South
on May 29, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I agree with one of the above comments: if we don't sell marijuana, then why sell cigarettes? There is no rational answer to that. I also agree that it just doesn't seem like a problem--if this is a statement, then it's a puny one.

Posted by David , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Bravo. Banning all smoking is long overdue. The increasing use of bogus marihuana junkies claiming medical use will also be covered by this proposed ban.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on May 29, 2013 at 6:24 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Kniss claims to be the guardian of public health and can there fore ban legal activities in that name. Why does she stop there? Why not ban fat food restaurants in the city? Why not ban sugar containing drinks ? Why not mandate what palo alto residents can and cannot eat? Why stop there? Why not tell us what we can and cannot do?
You know why she does not? She know that she will be laughed at. But smoking is such a hot button issue , she can get on her bully pulpit and score some political points.
It is too bad that the city is being fooled by this lifetime politician.
And as others have mentioned casual exposure to second hand smoke in an outside parks NOT dangerous to your health.

Posted by Jon, a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2013 at 9:19 pm

It's all so rudiculous. Doesn't the city have bigger issues than this? Wow ...great way to waste time by doing.....nothing.

Posted by Wu Tang, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2013 at 7:34 am

Children should not be exposed to cigarette smoke. In China, smokers who do this near children go to prison. it should be illegal in all parks, period.

Posted by Hutch 5.56, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 30, 2013 at 7:41 am

"In China, smokers who do this near children go to prison."

Web Link
"Tobacco control legislation does exist, but public enforcement is rare to non-existent outside of the most highly internationalized cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing. Furthermore, outside of the largest cities in China, smoking is considered socially acceptable virtually anywhere at any time, even if it is technically illegal."

SHall we stick to the facts???

Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center
on May 30, 2013 at 8:36 am

Smoking in the parks will continue as usual because there will be no enforcement. Fortunately, the amount of second hand smoke anyone would be exposed to is not a health issue. The basic tenets of toxicology is time and dose. It takes thirty years of smoking to kill a smoker. Do you really think a wisp of smoke in the park is hazardous? Fire hazard in certain open spaces is another issue.

Posted by Mike, a resident of University South
on May 30, 2013 at 8:57 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by So funny, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 30, 2013 at 10:11 am

There are actually very valid medical reasons to allow selling of pot, none to sell cigs, so the whole "If we don't allow selling pot, why allow cigs" is funny. Its not both or none. We should ban cigs _and_ allow medical cannabis. This won't happen anytime soon because of peoples biases, but the facts being what they are, it makes rational sense. Again, this is Palo Alto, so people's "personal knowledge" trumps factual findings. I'm just glad for all the delivery services for medical cannabis into Palo Alto ever since my diagnosis. I'm hopeful the plants I'm now growing myself will make me self sufficient w/ it all. If you wait for government/social permission you'll be doomed.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 30, 2013 at 10:53 am

So funny: I agree.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2013 at 11:03 am

IDIOTIC ... Come on this is not going to work any more than leash laws do.

The other day I was out at the Baylands and some people having just gotten out of their car and starting to walk with 2 big dogs. One of the dogs was on a 30 foot leash and went bounding towards me. You cannot control a big dog on a 30 foot leash, especially if you are trying to control more than one.

And that was a dog ... you cannot control people, especially drug addicts if you stand between them and their drugs. Just forbid smoking in parks. How smart does it have to be to still be smoking after all this time? I don't want to see it, smell it or deal with the people who are so rude as to stink up the air with their smoke signals of stupidity.

I can't believe this is even being considered. Not only that, but I recall working in a government building where there was a room for smokers. If you happened to walk in there multiple air purifiers sucking in smoke and blowing it out, the whole room was disgusting, 2 3 4 5 6 generations of second hand smoke ... it was bad even for the smokers, and it still affected the rest of the people in the building.

Give smokers some help and not encouragement - ban smoking in public places.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2013 at 11:05 am

Funny ... All smoke is bad, but all smoke is not bad to the same degree. Medical cannabis also does not need to be smoked it can be drunk or eaten. Not so funny when you bother to learn the facts.

Posted by Intolernace rules, a resident of Stanford
on May 30, 2013 at 11:13 am

"How smart does it have to be to still be smoking after all this time? I don't want to see it, smell it or deal with the people who are so rude as to stink up the air with their smoke signals of stupidity"
How about a little understanding for others? It is not alwyas about you. You complain about rudeness nad smokers stupidity, yet you display the same traits. Typical intolerant, know-it-all Palo Altoans.

Posted by Mike, a resident of University South
on May 30, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Not sure why my post above was tagged/removed. I just expressed my personal opinion. I don't like the way cigarette smoke smells.

Posted by sue, a resident of Downtown North
on May 31, 2013 at 8:41 am

why do people even need to smoke in a park? - palo alto or any town
if they want to smoke they can smoke in their own home/backyard

if you ask me smoking in public is like peeing in the streets

Posted by ames, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 8:51 am

hmmm we cut down trees in eleanor pardee park because they were a labeled hazardous and could hurt/kill someone....but we question banning smoking in parks????

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2013 at 9:02 am

I think we have gone too far. Yes, a ban for fire safety in Foothill and the Baylands trails, around the picnic areas, sportsfields and play grounds, all makes sense. But the rest is not causing a problem.

I grew up with a smoker and hate smoke. I like being able to walk along the street without being bothered by smoke and now the park smokers may be forced to smoke in the street or parking lots instead.

My father used to visit regularly and he was a smoker. He didn't like to bother us by smoking at our home or in our yard where our children played, so he would walk to our neighborhood park, sit on a quiet bench out of the way, smoke a couple of cigarettes to get his fix while reading, and walk back about an hour later. If he still came to visit, his only place now would be the street - or he would not come to visit. I am sure he is not the only one like this.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 31, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Medical pot dispensaries are just a shell for illegal sales of dope. Everyone knows that. Med pot cards too easy to get. Resale to teenagers is a common occurrence.

That's why you won't see those operations in PA anytime soon.

Posted by She, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 2, 2013 at 7:00 am

Your dad won't visit cause he can't smoke in a park ... Sounds like your dad
Should quit smoking or he won't be doing much of anything at all anymore, sad

Love that people feel smoking in public is the answer to not smoking around families / or in their homes/ yards
....don't want to pollute my loved ones but happy to pollute strangers

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2013 at 8:14 am


You [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] obviously did not read my post properly.

My father was a heavy smoker all his life - started at age 11. He twice completely quit for about 9 months, but missed the relaxation that a couple of cigarettes gave him. He ended up smoking a couple of cigarettes couple of times a day and always finds somewhere quiet and private to do so. The cigarettes he smoked in the park was not "in public" in that he went to a bench away from people and was very considerate. I only wish he had been as considerate to me when I was growing up.

If people choose to smoke while walking along the street, that would be a lot worse than finding a quiet corner in the park where there was nobody to bother. People smoking in parking lots is also unpleasant too and I know they do that a lot now in the lots behind Castro Street since there is nowhere else for them to go.

He has not visited me for sometime for various reasons.

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