City parks could be smoke free if Vancouver City Council approves updated codes

Puffing on a cigarette or not cleaning up after Fido in a city park could lead to steeper penalties if the Vancouver City Council approves proposed updates to the city’s municipal park code.

On Nov. 28, the council reviewed a number of park code revisions recommended by Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation (VCPR) staff, including a complete ban on tobacco use or the consumption of intoxicating liquor in city parks, open spaces, trails, athletic fields or facilities associated with a park.

The City Council voted to send the proposal on to further public review at its Dec. 5 meeting before making a final decision.

If it bothers somebody else, it’s probably illegal

The park code revisions are the first since 1969, and they follow an overarching theme: If an activity is potentially harmful or bothersome to other park visitors, it’s either illegal, needs to be kept to designated areas, or requires the permission of the parks director or designated staff beforehand.

Violations of park codes will remain misdemeanors (true since 1969), but the maximum cash fine will increase from $300 to $1,000. Possible jail time will remain 90 days or less.

“This is consistent with park codes with larger cities like Tacoma and Seattle,” said assistant city attorney Terry Weiner. “It’s very common language.”

In addition to banning all tobacco use, the codes prohibit open containers or consumption of intoxicating liquors without a proper permit. Citizens will be able to carry (but not shoot) firearms, but fireworks, bows, arrows, or slingshots remain prohibited.

Other activities added to the banned list include using an amplified sound system without a proper permit, or riding an animal, motorcycle, skateboard, in-line skates or motorized foot scooter beyond designated paths. And similar to baseball or football, other sports like lacrosse, rugby, paintball, disc golf, and volleyball can only occur in specified areas. Parks and Recreation staff said there will be a commitment to putting appropriate signage up to instruct park visitors.

“There’s designated areas, there are other areas that are free and open to be used for a variety of purposes,” said Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Director Pete Mayer. “And the expectation is that folks will use those accordingly and use good judgment, not interfering with others enjoyment and use of our park system.”

Citizens who offend risk expulsion and big fines

A new provision regarding park expulsion is also a part of the code update. Police officers or authorized parks and recreation staff can issue a written expulsion notice to code violators based on observation by the parks director or by civilians. Length of expulsion can be up to seven days for the first offense, 30 days for a second offense within the same year, or as long as one year for multiple offenses within the same year.

“The offender need not be charged, tried, or convicted of any crime or infraction in order for an exclusion notice to be issued or effective,” the ordinance reads.

However, the changes will allow citizens to submit an appeal before a hearing officer to have exclusion notices rescinded or shortened. The decision of the hearing officer is final and must be appealed to the Clark County Superior Court within 14 days.

Can city collect on unrealistic fines?

During the meeting, councilor Larry Smith asked Mayer how the ordinance compares with those of other parks departments in the state, and what role the Vancouver Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission played.

Mayer said the changes emerged as a result of direct input from the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, the City Council, and public outreach. VCPR conducted an e-mail blast to 12,000 subscribers to its database, press releases, postings on the city web pages, Twitter, and Facebook; a radio interview on Oregon Public Broadcasting, and video of Parks and Recreation’s Oct. 10 workshop with the Vancouver City Council.

From that exposure, the VCPR received 24 electronic comments, of which 16 were in favor and eight were opposed, and five comments on Facebook, three for the ordinance changes and two opposed.

“This did have quite a bit of media attention, and, as I would characterize, a rather robust public outreach plan,” Mayer said.

Councilor Jack Burkman asked what the motivation was behind the ban on all uses of tobacco. Mayer said the VCPR Advisory Commission recommended the provision out of concern for public health.

Councilor Jeanne Stewart wondered if charging a person with a misdemeanor and handing out a $1,000 fine for failing to pick up dog droppings was realistic.

“First of all I wonder if we would ever get it,” she said. “Second of all, it seems a little out of proportion to me, but I’m sure we’ll have more conversation about that when this comes back for public hearing.”

Councilor Pat Campbell said his family uses parks extensively and finding dog feces is a major issue, particularly with small children around. He felt enforcement is key.

“I think [the code change] is excellent, but what we really need out there is a person on a regular basis writing warnings and writing citations,” he said. “If we just had a little bit of that, it would go a long ways and we have a huge area to cover.”

Councilor Bart Hansen said he supported the ban on smoking, if for nothing else but the nuisance factor.

“I don’t take my children to the park to think, ‘Let’s go inhale a bunch of smoke while we’re playing around the playground,’” he said. “Unfortunately, I have to deal with it.”

Public comments on the new codes were mixed. Park proponents argued that maintaining the health and safety of parks is paramount.

“Cigarette smoke is really harmful for one’s health and cigarette butts are terribly difficult to maintain,” said Florence Wager, the co-chair of the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission who held a large Ziploc bag filled with cigarette butts a local family collected from a city park. “I think we have, and I think you share, a desire to keep our public parks clean, especially the air quality.”

However, Vancouver resident Penny Ross told the council that the code changes go too far.

“I’m thinking we need to make our parks accessible to children, to the public,” she said. “We don’t need micro-management to the point that there won’t be any Frisbees.”

The Dec. 5 Vancouver City Council meetings begins at 7 p.m. at Vancouver City Hall, located at 415 West 6th Street (2nd Floor). Public comment will be received.

Read more:

City council bans smokers from lighting up in parks



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