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.