City Council restricts smoking in parks

DOWNEY - Citing public health concerns, the Downey City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to limit the areas where smokers can light up at public parks and city-sponsored events.Smoking will still be allowed in park parking lots and sidewalks, and other designated areas within the parks. The controversial ordinance, first introduced two weeks ago, is expected to be ratified later this year. About 60 kids and teenagers - many from the Kiwanis Green Team and Downey High School's Kiwins Club and Key Club - testified in support of the new smoking restrictions Tuesday, citing the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and 4,000 cigarette butts collected from park playgrounds last summer. The students took turns pleading for clean air and cleaner parks. "My best friend has asthma and when we went to the park someone was smoking and she started coughing really bad," said a young girl who identified herself only as Christina. "We had to stop running." Smokers who light up a cigarette outside of designated areas will be subject to fines of $35-$100 but the total cost could reach $300 with court fees. City officials, however, said citations are last options and will be issued only when smokers ignore verbal warnings. "Prior to issuing an infraction citation, and depending on a given situation, both police officers and park staff have the discretion to simply warn an individual that he/she is violating the Ordinance and ask that he/she stop smoking," city attorney Yvette Abich Garcia wrote in a memo to council members. "It is expected that such an approach will in most cases result in compliance..." Police chief Rick Esteves echoed those sentiments, adding that a citation "is a worst case scenario unless someone is set on violating the ordinance." To issue a misdemeanor citation, a police officer must personally witness the alleged illegal smoking, Esteves added. Councilman Mario Guerra, the only council member to vote against the measure, said the new ordinance is redundant since state law already prohibits smoking within 25 feet of a playground. "This ordinance will do nothing to stop smoking," Guerra said. "It's already illegal to smoke near a playground and obviously people are breaking that law. I'm sorry we have this false sense that something is being accomplished." Councilman David Gafin voted against the measure two weeks ago, calling it an infringement on citizens' rights. But he changed his vote after hearing testimony from dozens of residents. "It's overwhelming from residents that they want this," Gafin said. "And I as elected to represent the constituents." The smoking restrictions also extend to city-sponsored events that take place on city-owned property, such as the "Taste of Downey" food festival. It will not be applicable to Chamber of Commerce attractions such as the Downey Street Faire or Christmas Parade, or at local golf courses. Movie or TV crews filming in Downey parks with valid permits are also exempt. Ash trays will be placed in smoking areas to collect cigarette butts and local environmental students said they will survey the parks next summer to see if the smoking restrictions help reduce litter.

********** Published: November 10, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 30