Ordinance first suggested in 2014
By Angie Landsverk
The Waupaca Common Council will begin 2016 with a discussion about a smoking ban in city parks.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Board discussed the idea when it met on Thursday, Dec. 10, and recommended the council do so as well.
The ban being considered would be in all city parks, including the River Ridge Trail system.
“We are an advisory board. Let’s advise,” Loren Fritz said before he made the motion to send the discussion to the council.
Parks and Recreation Director Aaron Jenson said discussion about a smoking ban in parks will be an agenda item for the council’s first meeting in 2016 at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5.
Open to the public, the meeting will be in the council chambers, located in the lower level of city hall.
How it began
The discussion about a smoking ban in Waupaca’s parks first began in October 2014.
That is when city resident Dave Wood attended a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board to ask if there was support for it.
He is the father of a 3 year old and a 5 year old, and his family spends a lot of time in the parks.
The board’s consensus was to move forward with a smoke and tobacco free park system.
A month later, a board member asked Jenson for an update.
Minutes from the November 2014 Parks and Recreation Board show Jenson said the staff’s first step was to push for no smoking in playground areas or shelters.
He told the board it would hear more about the issue in the future.
Last week, Wood attended the board’s meeting again and reiterated why he brought up the topic a year ago.
He told the board he brought it up due to the amount of people he observes smoking in the parks, including 20-somethings smoking while they are on the playground apparatus.
A year ago, his daughter, who was 2 at the time, picked up a cigarette butt and put it in her mouth, he said.
Wood asked if there was support from the board, the council and the city for an ordinance banning smoking in city parks.
“It’s about setting an example for the kids and keeping the parks clean,” he said.
A handful of Wisconsin municipalities ban smoking in their parks, including Columbia and St. Croix counties and Appleton, Shorewood, Verona and Wisconsin Dells, Jenson said.
While those communities did not experience a “ton of push back” when they decided to make their parks smokefree, the common theme among them is that policing the ban is tough, he said.
Waupaca’s parks employees are not set up to ticket those who violate ordinances, Jenson said.
“I think it is still valuable to have an ordinance in the parks saying this is something we don’t want to see,” he said.
Jenson noted the city already has “Young Lungs at Play” signage by the fields where children play baseball and softball to encourage people to refrain from smoking in those areas.
He also talked to Police Chief Tim Goke about the idea of a complete ban of smoking in city parks.
“The reality is it won’t get policed like other things,” Jenson said.
However, an ordinance would allow officers to do something if they were in a park and saw someone smoking, he said.
Complete or partial ban?
During the Park and Recreation Board’s Dec. 10 meeting, Jenson asked the board if it supported a parkwide ban of smoking or just a ban in play areas and by ball fields.
Most members favored a parkwide ban.
Pat Phair said the same discussion came up in the school district.
In the past, people could smoke while sitting in the bleachers watching a game, he said.
Eventually, the school district’s entire grounds went smoke free.
“It took time,” Phair said. “It is that way now on school property. I think it’s a pretty easy transition now.”
John Kneer agreed.
With the Parks and Rec’s soccer program on school property, people are used to the smoking ban there, he said.
“I think the carryover into the park property would be pretty natural, Kneer said.
He said the “Young Lungs” signage is a good start to taking the idea further with an ordinance.
“It seems to be where communities are moving,” Kneer said.
He also said boundaries within a park would offer more opportunities for conflicts.
Phair said he believes those who smoke would honor the ordinance.
The ordinance would not make accusations about smokers. It would say it is not appropriate to do so in parks, he said.
When Ald. Dave Peterson asked why the council should pass an ordinance the city will not enforce, Ald. Eric Olson said the discussion was about the fact it could be difficult to police it.
“I think if a couple got tickets, word would spread fast,” Olson said. “I don’t think we should say we’re not going to police it.”
Jenson asked Peterson and Olson what they, as alderpersons, want to see before it goes before the council for a vote.
“I think we should also start the discussion at the council level,” Olson said.