Commissioners agree to provide designated smoking areas in parking lots, with Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection advisory Board to review proposed resolution before commission vote
Through the unanimous approval of three separate motions this week, the Sarasota City Commission began the process of prohibiting cigarette smoking at North Lido Beach and in city parks.
A third motion authorized City Attorney Robert Fournier to draft a resolution that would designate the parking lots at the beach and in city parks — or areas within those lots — as smoking locations. That would provide an option for members of the public who — as Commissioner Hagen Brody pointed out — cannot go for long periods of time without lighting up a cigarette. Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch’s motion on that option also called for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Advisory Board (PREP) to consider the resolution before it comes to the City Commission.
City Manager Marlon Brown did point out on Sept. 6, “Not all parks have a parking area.” Neighborhood parks, for example, have no parking spaces, he said. Therefore, Brown suggested that the designated smoking areas for such parks could be “on the sidewalk or on the right of way.”
At one point, Brody asked why Fournier could not just modify the language in the proposed ordinances to designate parking lots for smoking.
A resolution “gives you more flexibility,” Fournier said. That could be updated readily as commission majorities agreed in the future to designate additional areas or remove some of them, Fournier added.
“That makes sense,” Commissioner Liz Alpert replied, and Brody concurred with her.
The smoking bans will not apply to unfiltered cigars, as allowed for in the state law approved this year to make the beach and park restrictions legal in city- and county-owned facilities. One speaker during the Sept. 6 public hearing noted that such cigars are biodegradable.
The beach ordinance also would not apply to South Lido, Fournier pointed out, because it is Sarasota County property.
The ordinances that the board members approved this week will have to be voted on a second time before they go into effect.
In response to a Sarasota News Leader question about that timeline, Fournier wrote in a Sept. 7 email that the second readings would be scheduled for the commission’s regular meeting on Oct. 3. Given the request for the PREP Board to review the resolution, he added, he was not sure when the final version would be placed on a City Commission agenda.
Furthermore, in response to comments that Manatee County resident Jennifer Sorto made during the Sept. 6 hearings, the commissioners agreed that a period for public education would be planned before the ordinances become law.
The Sarasota Police Department would be responsible for enforcing the new regulations, Fournier said during the discussion, but any action taken against an individual who refused to comply with the new laws would be a civil matter.
Another speaker during the Sept. 6 hearing, Ed Mccaffrey, told the commissioners, “I’ve called hundreds, maybe thousands of times” about city ordinances not being enforced. “You can pass all the ordinances you want,” he added. “Until you enforce them, they mean absolutely nothing.”
The background and the Sept. 6 discussion
Fournier reminded the board members that local governments’ right to regulate smoking was part of an amended state law that went into effect on July 1. State Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, had been working for years to get that approved and signed by the governor.
He also reminded the commissioners that the city regulation that prohibited smoking at the beach in years past was linked to a Sarasota County ordinance. Since the city commissioners instructed him on July 5 to begin work on the new laws, he said, the County Commission has yet to act on the issue. Therefore, he drafted the proposed new city regulations so they would stand on their own.
During the discussion, Commissioner Brody pointed out, “You know, I mean, I know nobody on the Commission smokes cigarettes, but I know we have residents that do.”
While he voiced support for the ban on the beach, Brody talked about the potential of allowing golfers to smoke at Bobby Jones Golf Club after it reopens next year following reconstruction of the courses and other improvements.
“I just don’t want to make offenders” out of golfers, Brody added. “It’s relatively solitary,” he said, referring to the playing of golf. “You’re not near other people, generally.”
Fournier told Brody that the commissioners could call for changes in the proposed ordinance to exempt certain parks, such as Bobby Jones.
“I just want to be careful about not criminalizing [golfers],” Brody said. As a governmental body, he continued, the commission should “show a little deference to people that we may not agree with, their choices.”
“I don’t think that makes them criminals,” Commissioner Alpert responded. “I’m sure they would just get a warning; I don’t think we’re going to arrest them.”
“I think that if we’re going to [implement the ban in parks], we should do it in all parks … for enforcement purposes,” she pointed out, citing the need for consistency.
Vice Mayor Kyle Battie told his colleagues, “I’m in favor and concur …” He was at Lido Beach over the weekend, he added. When he arrived on his bicycle, Battie said, he saw a man and woman get out of a vehicle with cigarettes in their hands. “Me, myself, I just think it’s disgusting.”
He agreed with the suggestion about designating parking lots in parks as smoking areas, but he opposed any designated areas within parks or on the beach, especially in locations where children gather.
As for Bobby Jones: Battie said he understood Brody’s comments, “But, yeah, at the same time, the smoke still lingers.”
Battie did acknowledge, “I hate cigarette smoke.”
Mayor Erik Arroyo told his colleagues that he understood the rationale for prohibiting smoking on the beaches. Cigarettes left on the shoreline are bad for tourism and wildlife, he added.
Another speaker during the public hearing — Charles Denault of Sarasota, chair of the Tobacco-Free Partnership for Sarasota County — stressed that “the butts themselves take up to 10 years to degrade”; during that time, “they leach dangerous chemicals” into the environment, including heavy metals that are poisonous to wildlife. Those chemicals often make their way up the food chain to people, Denault continued.
When Arroyo asked Fournier if he had received a lot of complaints about smoking in city parks, City Manager Marlon Brown responded.
After a 12th Judicial Circuit judge in Sarasota County ruled in late December 2012 that local government bodies could not regulate smoking in public places, Brown said, “There was a lot of complaints about smoking in the parks and on the beaches.”
However, Brown noted, those “died over time.”
“I know people who smoke cigarettes,” Arroyo continued. “They have to do it, right? … Something to consider.”
“I really don’t like the idea of people smoking around playgrounds” or other areas with lots of children,” Brody told his colleagues. “I think that would hurt the popularity and use of our playgrounds …”
Still, he said, he sympathizes with long-time smokers who are “just not going to quit.”
Brody later agreed with Alpert’s suggestion about designating the parking lots for smoking, with staff making sure to install receptacles for cigarette butts in those areas. “That’s my biggest concern,” Brody pointed out — the potential for butts to become litter.
“We need receptacles,” Alpert concurred. “The biggest problem is certainly secondhand smoke,” she continued, but “it’s the cigarette butts that get left everywhere, everywhere,” especially on the beaches.
Before the Circuit Court judge ruled the local government ordinances invalid, Fournier responded, the city did have signage asking people in designated smoking areas to use the receptacles provided for the butts.
Speaker Sorto encouraged the commissioners to call for large new signs with information about the fact that such receptacles are present.
Yet another speaker, Larry Grossman of Manatee County, concurred with her. “The sign is going to be really important …”