This shit again.
Anybody remember five years ago when then-parks superintendent Timothy Gallagher tried to institute a full ban on smoking in city parks? A bunch of people—including the ACLU of Washington and the parks commission—argued that would go too far and could unfairly target homeless people. Eventually, Gallagher backtracked and we ended up with the limited ban in place today: No “smoking, chewing, or other tobacco use” within 25 feet of playgrounds or other people.
Now, the plan for an all-out ban is back, thanks to the city parks department and Mayor Ed Murray.
“Residents of and visitors to our beautiful city deserve to fully enjoy every amenity our parks have to offer,” Murray said in a statement today, “including fresh air and a clean, sustainable environment… This ban just makes sense for our community. It is the right thing to do for Seattle.”
Next month, the Board of Park Commissioners, a citizen group that makes recommendations to the city about parks policies, will take public testimony on a full ban. They’ll deliberate in May and pass on a recommendation to the parks superintendent, who’ll make the final call.
The new rule would cover any smoking or lighting of “cigars, cigarettes, hookahs, tobacco, or other smoking material, within all publicly accessible portions of property under Parks’ jurisdiction.”
Last time this was considered, city council member Sally Bagshaw was chair of the council’s parks committee and she opposed the ban. But Jean Godden, who’s now the parks committee chair, is into it.
“As chair of the parks committee, my aim is to preserve safe open-spaces for recreation throughout our city,” she said in an e-mail today. “I support a smoking ban in Seattle parks because it fits with this goal.”
Here’s the problem: Breaking the rule would result in a written warning and then an exclusion from city parks. Not only could that enforcement happen in a disproportionate way that targets homeless people, but the homeless are also more likely to have nowhere else to go, making getting banned from city parks even more of a hardship. (Godden followed up on her e-mail statement later in the day saying she'd ask the park board to attach an "evaluation" to ensure "equitable enforcement" of the new rule. She did not elaborate on what this might mean.)
Also: If smoking is already banned within 25 feet of other people—and smoke dissipates within a short distance of a lit cigarette—is this really about the dangers of secondhand smoke? (Seattle Parks spokesperson Joelle Hammerstad responds to that by saying the 25-foot rule is too hard to enforce, so people still end up breathing others' secondhand smoke in parks.)
“Let’s face it: Smoking is a class-based activity,” says Tim Harris, founder and director of the nonprofit Real Change. “Nobody’s concerned about the scourge of middle-class guys and women taking smoke breaks in the park… This is about creating a tool to move people on and cite people and harass them.”
Think this whole thing is bullshit? Say something. Send written comments to email@example.com or show up at the meeting April 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the Kenneth R. Bounds Board Room at Seattle Parks and Recreation headquarters. You can bother Jean Godden at firstname.lastname@example.org and current parks superintendent Christopher Williams (who also supports the ban, as does his soon-to-be successor Jesús Aguirre, according to the mayor's office) at email@example.com.