Smoking ban on the way

Will prohibit smoking in business doorways

Smoke was the burning issue at the Tuesday (Aug. 21) meeting of the Chico City Council—not the smoke from forest fires in the air lately, but the smoke from cigarettes.

The council was responding to a request from the American Lung Association for a comprehensive smoking policy that included a ban on smoking in city parks and a ban on smoking within 20 feet of a business entryway.

The parks proposal had more to do with litter than smoke, though both problems were discussed. In addition, the Chico Area Recreation and Parks District recently banned smoking in its parks and for consistency’s sake wanted the city’s policy to be the same.

Susan Mason, who has spent thousands of volunteer hours cleaning Bidwell Park, pointed out that filter cigarette butts are toxic and, when the rain comes, are washed into the creek. Smoking is also a fire hazard, she said, noting that so far this year there have been 10 fires in the park.

Anna Dove, who also has done voluntary cleanups in the park, showed the council two plastic bags filled with butts, each collected during a 30-minute walk among picnic sites in Lower Park. She urged the council to adopt a policy making Chico’s outdoors smoke-free.

The council made short work of the parks proposal, bumping it to the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission for a recommendation.

That left the matter of smoking within 20 feet of doorways, something that’s already prohibited at public buildings.

Several teenage girls, members of the KLEAN (Kids Leading Efforts Against Nicotine) Team, told of their monitoring of the amount of smoking occurring in front of downtown businesses and the dangers of second-hand smoke. Their concerns were echoed by several adults, including representatives of the ALA.

None of the speakers had good things to say about cigarettes, but a few weren’t supportive of banning smoking altogether.

Sue Hubbard, who’s active in the tea party, noted the ban would be unenforceable. Smoking is disgusting, she said, but it’s legal.

Local businessman Michael Reilley reminded the council that smoking was already prohibited in City Plaza and Children’s Playground, adding that people smoke there anyway, both cigarettes and “medicine.”

“This is a feel-good ordinance,” he said. “The city has no money to enforce it, and if you’re not going to enforce it, why pass it?”

Councilman Bob Evans was similarly unsure. Saying he’d had family members affected by smoking, he nevertheless thought it was a “rights” issue. “Smokers have a right to be unhealthy,” he said.

But it was soon clear that a majority of the council members favored instituting some kind of ordinance. Although both the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Chico Business Association oppose a city ban on smoking in entryways, many local businesses are supportive.

Enforcement wasn’t the issue, Councilwoman Mary Goloff said. An ordinance, combined with education outreach and signage, would give local businesses the tools they need to police their doorways, she said.

“The condition of our downtown sidewalks is among the top 10 public concerns,” said Councilman Scott Gruendl. Noting that the city prohibited panhandling near certain businesses, he said “the responsibility for public health isn’t the Chamber’s or the DCBA’s, it’s the city’s. … We need to make sure downtown is family-friendly.”

He suggested that 20 feet might be more than necessary, noting that cigarette smoke becomes noticeable at 13 feet.

Ultimately, the council voted 5-2, with Evans and Councilman Mark Sorensen dissenting, to authorize city staff to draft a public smoking ordinance.

In other council news: The council unanimously approved a contract with Brian Nakamura as Chico’s new city manager, while thanking Dave Burkland for his service. But the subject came up again, during the “business from the floor” segment of the meeting, when Chris Nicodemus addressed the council.

He’s a detective with the county Sheriff’s Office who often criticizes the council for failing to fund the Police Department sufficiently. This time he held up several recent issues of the Chico Enterprise-Record that featured front-page stories about crimes, charging that convicts are being “dumped” here and the public is at risk. Nakamura cut the police force drastically in Hemet, he said, and yet the council is paying him nearly $40,000 more than Burkland. When, he asked, are you going to explain that to the public?

Following the meeting, I asked Mayor Ann Schwab and Councilman Gruendl about that. Schwab praised Nakamura’s experience, noting he’d held five city manager positions in 15 years. “The city of Chico deserves the best,” she said.

Five jobs in 15 years? Does that connote commitment?

“That was clearly a concern we had,” Gruendl replied. “But [Nakamura] was looking for a place to finish out his career and retire. He appreciated how previous city managers [like Tom Lando] had stuck around.”

And the salary?

“We were at a disadvantage in negotiations,” Gruendl replied, “because of the [July 19] article in the CN&R [about Nakamura’s interview visit to Chico]. “I’m not blaming the paper, but that made it more difficult.”