Fighting crime in Palo Alto by banning smoking?
Original post made
by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 21, 2006
As part of a clamp down on crime in Palo Alto, a new ordinance is being drafted that would ban drinking and smoking in all city parks.
The proposed ordinance is part of "Operation Safe Neighborhoods," a concept created by Mayor Judy Kleinberg and city officials. By early August, we had 131 burglaries since Jan. 1, compared to 169 for the entire previous year. The program hopes to put more police patrols on the streets, and get city employees, like utilities workers, meter readers and firefighters, to keep their eyes and ears open when they are at work in our community.
All well and good.
But Kleinberg said that smoking and drinking are responsible for "antisocial gatherings" and an implied subsequent criminal activity, and hence the proposed ban in the parks.
Now I quit smoking 20 years ago, yet I would be very hard-pressed to say that people who smoke may be potential criminals or likely to burglarize our homes, especially if they smoke in parks.
I know a number of people who smoke (including one of my sons) and they are nice ordinary citizens who, at worst, are addicted to tobacco. Sure, they go to parties, but they certainly are not especially into "antisocial gatherings." So the logic of this ordinance escapes me.
Palo Alto, since the early 1990s, bans alcohol in city parks unless you get a permit in advance. But smoking in parks has been permitted.
Now if Palo Alto wants to ban smoking in parks or parts of parks for health reasons, that's a different issue. All that would be needed is an ordinance approved by the council banning smoking, just as we ban smoking in public buildings. (Whether the ban is a good idea would have to be debated.)
But the underlying intent of the proposed no-smoking-in-the parks ordinance is that it is part of a sweeping anti-crime effort.
And when such a ban is proposed implying that only bad people (e.g. burglars and other criminals) smoke, it feels to me like this is a new way for government to control people's behavior under false pretenses.
In these troubled times, our governments, whether they be federal or local, can overreact in their zeal to keep people safe. This certainly has been true with the federal government's attempts to "fight terrorism" by doing such things as wiretapping Americans.
The same can be said for our city. In its zeal to protect residents against burglaries, I think banning smoking in our parks to ward off burglars is an overreach.
Posted by Judy Kleinberg
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2006 at 10:17 pm
I'm glad to see the discussion of a proposed ban on drinking and smoking in neighborhood parks. I look forward to reading/hearing more comments. But let me set the record straight.
First of all, alcohol is not banned in our neighborhood parks -- it is banned in our two downtown parks, but nowhere else. Second, the proposal would allow alcohol for city-sponsored events and perhaps allow it if someone has taken out a permit. How we would handle the occasional glass of wine or beer at a picnic or barbeque would need to be worked out, but enforcement would be on a complaint only basis.
Third, I didn't say "smoking and drinking are responsible for antisocial gatherings." I did say that banning these two activities might discourage antisocial gatherings. In fact, I made a point of saying there was no documented connection between any gatherings in our parks and neighborhood crime -- and they are not connected as a "sweeping anticrime effort." These matters, safety in our parks and crime in our neighborhoods are only connected because they were raised by neighbors at the same time and so it made sense to address them at the same time.
Finally, I did say that neighbors have complained about this and felt uncomfortable having their children at the parks when groups of people are there drinking and smoking -- adults may feel uncomfortable as well.
As for smoking, many recreational areas, including parks and beaches, now ban smoking. It's a dangerous practice in parks where it can start fires, and an undeniably unhealthy practice, both for the smoker and those exposed to the smoke. As for those who are nonsmokers trying to enjoy their parks in a healthy way, second hand smoke is unwelcome and unhealthy. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that second-hand smoke contains a mixture of more than 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which are carcinogens, cancer-causing agents. The CDC says that second-hand smoke is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer and coronary heart disease in nonsmoking adults. Exposure to second-hand smoke is also associated with an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia in young children.
Smoking has been banned in all parks and beaches in San Diego, and similar bans have been passed in Del Mar and Solana Beach, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and several cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Back east, the State of Rhode Island has one of the most far-reaching bans covering virtually every indoor workplace. The law specifically lists: aquariums, galleries, libraries, museums, bars, bingo halls, convention facilities, elevators, movie theaters, performance spaces, health care facilities, licensed child care and adult day care facilities, polling places, restaurants, retail stores, places of public assembly, schools, malls, and sports arenas, including outdoor complexes. Also covered are public transportation facilities, including buses and taxicabs under the authority of the state of Rhode Island, and ticket, boarding and waiting areas of public transit depots as well as lobbies, hallways and other common areas in apartment buildings, condominiums, trailer parks, retirement facilities, nursing homes and other multiple unit residential facilities with more than four units. The law also bans smoking in places used by the general public, including professional offices, banks, laundromats, hotels and motels.
So if Palo Altans want to ban smoking in our neighorhood parks, this would hardly be cutting edge.