After lengthy discussion, the Parks, Recreation and Environmental Board on Thursday afternoon agreed to recommend that city commissioners pass an ordinance banning tobacco use in all Sarasota public parks. The motion did not call for specific punitive measures.
For many residents, the motion was a long time coming. A petition was submitted to city commissioners asking for a ban in all city parks more than two years ago. Tobacco use at Lido Beach was banned previously.
Member John Hartmann commented, “I am frankly appalled that a city with a cosmopolitan nature and green incline would never have addressed this issue, when the evidence against the use of tobacco seems to be overwhelming.”
Several board members expressed reservations regarding enforcement. Citing the skaters that freely roam about downtown, Susan Hagglund commented, “I’d hate to see another ordinance go on the books that’s not going to be enforced.”
Millie Small brought up seat belts as an example of a similarly difficult measure to enforce. With time, there is a paradigm shift and people willingly buckle up, she said. Similarly, Small argued, people will eventually know not to smoke in the park.
Todd Kucharski, General Manager of Park Services added that staff, lifeguards and even citizens have been helping to enforce the ordinance and educate the public at Lido Beach. However, it was also noted that staff have not noticed a significant decrease in the number of cigarette butts left on the ground.
Board chair Kathryn Marquis worried that the ban would infringe on people’s “public rights,” leading into a conversation on logistics. Will people be able to walk across the street and light up? Will parking lots be included? How about a designated smoking zone? And how will this impact the customers of O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill’s ability to smoke outside the restaurant?
John Hartman interjected, saying, “Frankly, I think we’re getting tied up in our underwear here by worrying about enforcement and—that isn’t our job to enforce. That’s somebody else. I think the issue is a central one: are we condoning the use of tobacco or are we not? And if we set up smoking areas by a park, we have in effect endorsed the use of tobacco products. And I think that’s wrong.”
After 25 minutes of discussion, Marquis brought the group to a vote, and the motion to make the tobacco ban recommendation passed unanimously.
The board moved on to discuss recent complaints regarding the homeless population’s heavy use of benches at Five Points Park. Kucharski noted that they are often slept on, despite the divider in the seats.
Interestingly, the word “homeless” was never used, with members instead using euphemisms such as “local public people.”
Benches were recently removed from around the seashell fountain in Lemon Avenue Mall on First and Lemon Ave.
Kucharski suggested a six month study that will solicit feedback from the community and explore the option of benches that are even less friendly to the homeless.
Other topics of discussion included creating kayak storage at city parks.