The city of Sarasota took the first step toward imposing a smoking ban in all of its parks.
Its Parks Advisory Board voted unanimously March 17 to prohibit smokers from lighting up in all city parks.
“I don’t understand why smoking is allowed in any public facility in 2011,” said board member Elsie Souza.
After hearing complaints of increasingly aggressive panhandlers in Selby Five Points Park, the City Commission asked the advisory board to consider the ban.
Advisory board members felt they couldn’t just impose a smoking ban in that one park and wanted it applied to all city parks.
Not all members immediately agreed with the ban.
“I may be as anti-smoking as anyone, but I’m concerned about people’s rights,” said board Chairwoman Kathryn Marquis.
Another member was concerned about enforcement.
“We have a lot of ordinances that aren’t enforced,” said Suzy Hagglund. “I’d hate to see another ordinance created and not be enforced.”
Others said enforcement was not the advisory board’s concern.
“It took a long time for people to make a habit of wearing seatbelts or using child-safety seats,” said member Millie Small. “It may take a few years, but people will learn they can’t smoke in parks.”
The county already prohibits smoking on public beaches, and it does not allow its employees to smoke on any of its campuses, including libraries.
Some have mistakenly believed that the library ban extends to all citizens, but the ban is only for county workers.
People who smoke outside the Selby Public Library, across the street from Five Points Park, will be given cards that explain the county’s smoking policy, but smokers will not be asked to leave or ticketed for lighting up outside the library.
The bottom line for the advisory board — it wanted to send a message to the public.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for the board to say, ‘We value the health of our citizens,’” said member Jennifer Tucker.
The Parks Advisory Board also recommended to the City Commission that the remaining six benches in Selby Five Points Park be removed.
The removal would be for a six-month test period. During that time the city would study the effects that the lack of benches would have on the park’s users.
Five Points Park benches are frequent hangout spots for the homeless.
“When I see people walking through the park (and I) watch how the benches are used, it’s a disgrace,” said board member Elsie Souza. “Nobody else is able to use those benches. It gives the city a black eye.”
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