Smoking may be banned at Downey parks

DOWNEY - After a heated debate filled with feisty exchanges between council members, the City Council moved forward with plans Tuesday night to enact an ordinance banning cigarette smoking at all Downey parks and city-sponsored events.In a split decision, Mayor Luis Marquez, Councilmen Fernando Vasquez and Roger Brossmer voted in support while Councilmen Mario Guerra and David Gafin dissented. With more than 100 community members in attendance, including dozens of Downey teenagers and parents, the Council meeting often took on the tone of a political rally as several residents voiced support for a ban that would curb cigarette smoking near children and playgrounds. Vasquez, who proposed the smoking ban, said he was surprised by the turnout, but encouraged by the display of community involvement. "That's the beauty of our country, we can have these discussions," Vasquez said shortly before addressing the smoking ban. "I agree this country was built on rights - the right for our children to breathe fresh air. "Let adults be adults, but let children be children by letting them play in a safe environment," Vasquez added. Guerra, however, expressed concern over a possible anti-smoking ban and accused Marquez and Vasquez of playing politics, promoting a non-issue at the expense of residents' civil liberties. "I am vehemently opposed to this," Guerra said. "We don't have police to invest in this. Who's going to enforce it? What are the penalties? "I'm against tobacco. I agree that it does kill, but this isn't going to stop it. Let's use common sense. This is about our personal rights being taken away." Gafin agreed, insisting state and county laws already limit smoking near playgrounds and other outdoor venues. "I'm a strong proponent of individual rights. If an adult chooses to smoke it's their own right," Gafin reasoned. "Where do we stop? We should not impose this upon our citizens, taking individuals' rights away." Marquez, who announced his support for the ban last week, maintained the issue was not political in nature. "Children and parents agree this is a concern - it's a public health issue," Marquez said. "Our kids always come first." After more than an hour of public comments regarding the ban, Guerra acknowledged that he asked Marquez not to put the ordinance on the council agenda, questioning his motives. "You're doing this because it's a sexy, political issue for your campaign for state assembly," Guerra said turning towards Marquez, who is running for the 58th Assembly seat. "This is a very political issue." Guerra was then confronted by Vasquez who told those in attendance that Guerra also attempted to talk with him about the ordinance last week, but he declined. Vasquez insisted he was not accusing Guerra of violating open meeting laws, referred to as the Brown Act, but Guerra quickly fired back. "You're lying now. Don't lie," shouted Guerra pointing at Vasquez. "I will not have you challenge my integrity." On Wednesday morning, Guerra released a statement reiterating his stance on the issue, criticizing the anti-smoking ordinance as purely political. "Last night we expereienced great political theater when skilled politicians Mr. Marquez and Mr. Vasquez arranged for a non-issue in our community and turned it into an attractive campaign notch on their political belt," Guerra wrote. Marquez and Vasquez maintain they are only concerned about the health of Downey's children. Hoping to find common ground, Brossmer agreed to support a smoking ban so long as the city provided designated areas for smokers with sufficient receptacles for cigarette butts. Vasquez accepted Brossmer's compromise and proposed city staff craft an ordinance banning smoking in all Downey parks and public city events with provisions for designated areas for smokers. The ordinance will also include reasonable fines that may be enforced by park and recreation staff. City staff will bring the ordinance back for Council consideration within a few months.

********** Published: October 27, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 28