San Luis Obispo to weigh ban on smoking in parks

The San Luis Obispo City Council on Tuesday will consider cracking down on smokers in local parks, 19 years after it was the first city in the nation to ban indoor smoking in public places.

Specifically, the council will hear a staff recommendation to ban smoking in Mission Plaza, the downtown creek area and the city’s parks. The restriction could also apply to the city’s open-space reserves at its edges — also known as the greenbelt.

Staff is stopping short of suggesting the more stringent rule to ban smoking on city sidewalks and park benches downtown, in part because of opposition from business leaders who said it could be harmful during the recession.

That was suggested in January, after some downtown owners had complained about smoke coming into their stores from downtown benches.

The prohibition, if approved by the council as recommended by staff, would include smokeless tobacco; so baseball players and others who use chewing tobacco would not be able to do so at the city’s ball fields.

“When we were the first in the world to ban it, we thought all hell would break loose,” said City Manager Ken Hampian of the indoor smoking ban. Instead, the state and much of the nation followed suit.

The council is also currently considering regulations that could cost taverns and bars more money if they have a high number of police calls at their establishments. The proposal has been extremely unpopular among owners of those businesses.

Hampian said that staff believes it might be too much to pass restrictions on smoking outside establishments at the current time. But he said that it will still be discussed, and the council can take such an action if it chooses.

Both the Downtown Association and the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce presented the ban in parks and a possible ban on sidewalks to their leadership.

Both groups supported banning smoking in city-owned recreation areas including Mission Plaza, the downtown creek area, and parks, but neither supported a larger ban on sidewalk smoking downtown.

“That sounds reasonable to me, and I think the majority of the council will support it,” Mayor Dave Romero said of limiting the restrictions to parks.