On Tuesday night, the Turlock City Council unanimously approved a resolution to ban smoking, including electronic cigarettes, in all Turlock parks, public facilities, and adjacent parking lots.
The ban has long been controversial after Girl Scout Troop 3289 requested a smoking ban in Turlock parks at the Aug. 10, 2014 Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission (PARC) meeting.
Discussion continued in September, when PARC decided to move forward with an action item for the October meeting. However, staff notified PARC that there was already a smoking ban that had been on the books for more than a decade.
On Jan. 14, 2003, the then-Council approved a smoking in City parks, however that resolution was never enforced and signage was only posted at the Pedretti Sports Complex.
The City’s oversight garnered national attention, even being the punch line on NPR’s comedic news game show “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”
In November of 2014, PARC upheld the previous resolution by Council, on a 6-2 vote, adding a point to include vapor related products and electronic cigarettes in the ban.
Council questioned on Tuesday whether other cities have begun to ban vapor related products, to which Ken Fitzgerald, of Stanislaus County Office of Education Smoke-Free Parks Initiative, said the City of Patterson recently approved a smoking ban that included e-cigarettes and similar products.
The approval came to the delight of the Girl Scout Troop 3289, who was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Our girl scout troop, Troop 3289, has spent the last year learning about the hazards of secondhand smoke and we believe that innocent children, and adults alike, using our parks should not be exposed to the contents of other’s smoke,” read one of three girl scouts from Troop 3289.
Previous opponents to the ban were not present at Tuesday’s meeting, although one self-proclaimed smoker asked the Council look at the resolution from both sides. Vernon Price, a local resident and Homeless Advocate in Stanislaus County, said he does not deny the harm of cigarettes and tobacco, but that the ban would take the freedom from smokers.
“Yes, it is a good measure, I do admit that,” said Price. “And the ladies have done an excellent job in their research and in their knowledge. So let’s take this into consideration on both sides and I ask [Council] to respectfully look at this in the broader perspective of things.”
At the September PARC meeting, Turlock resident Larry Clinton opposed the ban on the basis that it infringed on the rights of the citizens.
Although the Council unanimously approved the resolution, Councilmember Steven Nascimento shared the sentiment of not wanting the government to infringe on the rights of citizens.
“I’m not a smoker myself. My wife, it’s like a big pet peeve of hers when we walk through anybody’s cloud of smoke and it’s not something I want to see at our parks,” said Nascimento. “But I struggle with it in terms of what is the appropriate role of government and where do we draw the line of where the individual is sovereign in what they’re doing themselves and what impact their activities are having on others.”
Nascimento mentioned that he believed including chewing tobacco, which would not be harming others, in the resolution would be overstepping government’s role.
“I don’t think it’s our place to tell someone they can’t harm themselves if that’s what they want to do,” said Nascimento. “… Maybe that’s the Libertarian in me, but it just seems that we’re overreaching a bit.”
Despite the possibility of stealing one’s personal freedoms, Councilmember Amy Bublak said the ban is about safety.
“If a person is out drinking alcohol in the park…they’re only harming themselves,” said Bublak. “It’s the inappropriate action that can take place from that….There’s not too many places where the public and the children can be in a safe environment.”
Nascimento agreed with Bublak, citing the negative health impacts from children seeing those using tobacco products at parks being the reason for his support of the ban.
With the approval of the resolution, the smoking ban will be enforceable, although the City is focusing more so on education.
Unlike the first smoking ban resolution, the City will attempt to avoid the same mistakes that previous staff made. Signs will posted at City parks, something that was not done for the original ban.
Councilmember Bill DeHart was concerned that the resolution would add more work for the already short-staffed Turlock Police Department to enforce.
“We certainly don’t want have our girl scouts becoming police officers,” said DeHart. “They’ve got infinitely more important things to do than that.”
However, Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson said that most people follow the rules on signs that are posted and there would not be much police enforcement of the resolution.
“A lot of times if it’s posted ‘No Smoking’ any City employee can say, ‘You know, this is a no smoking area’ and most people would comply,” said Jackson. “We’re not going to be having patrols… I think there’s other options instead of having your police department take the lead on enforcement.”
Council also made some changes to the resolution before voting on it. Councilmember Matthew Jacob asked that the Regional Transit Center be included in the ban with other facilities.
Before making the motion on the resolution, Bublak requested the item read “public facilities,” rather than “facilities.”
The Council then voted unanimously, 5-0, to approve the resolution adopting a policy “prohibiting the use of tobacco, including vapor related products and cigarettes in all public parks, public facilities and adjacent parking lots in the City of Turlock.”
Mayor Gary Soiseth thanked Girl Scout Troop 3289 for all of the work and research they did to help make this resolution happen.
“I’m really appreciative that you brought this to our attention,” said Soiseth. “It took a girl scout troop to do it and I think that’s a testament to youth and energy and I think it’s great, so stay involved.”