Smoking will no longer be permitted in Seattle’s parks, under any circumstances, if action by the city’s parks board Thursday night gets final approval.
The Seattle Board of Park Commissioners on Thursday endorsed Mayor Ed Murray’s controversial proposal to ban smoking completely in city parks.
Seattle’s parks department has since 2010 prohibited smoking, chewing and other tobacco use at beaches and playgrounds and within 25 feet of other park patrons.
The change adopted Thursday will simplify the no-smoking rule by making it a blanket ban in all parks, no matter how far the smoker is from other patrons.
Technically, Murray didn’t need approval from the board, which is an advisory body. New Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jesus Aguirre is expected to give final approval. The City Council didn’t formally weigh in because the ban is a rule, not an official law.
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The mayor said an outright ban would be easier to enforce and would make Seattle’s parks healthier and more welcoming. Officials also said the rule would further discourage smoking by young people by making it less common in public spaces.
Some health and environmental advocates supported Murray’s position. But the parks department modified the proposal before Thursday’s vote in response to opposition by people worried that the rule would be used to roust the homeless and poor out of downtown Seattle parks.
The Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project, the Seattle King County NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington State and other organizations criticized the outright ban, saying it would disproportionately inconvenience and possibly criminalize people who sleep and spend time in parks because they have no homes.
To make Murray’s proposal more palatable, the parks department said it wouldn’t hand out $27 fines to people violating the ban and promised to create a process for individuals to dispute any trespass warnings doled out as a result of the ban.
The parks department also said it would establish an enforcement-monitoring committee, including a representative from the Seattle Human Rights Commission and an advocate for the homeless, to oversee the ban’s impact on vulnerable people.
The groups opposed to the outright ban weren’t sufficiently appeased. They rallied Wednesday against the modified proposal. The board was supposed to vote on the matter May 14 but postponed the decision. Several commissioners Thursday said the modifications were enough to win their support. “I think you made this a much stronger proposal,” Commissioner Tom Byers said.
A Real Change representative called the outcome “a disappointment.”
The new rule won’t apply to vape pens and electronic cigarettes because city officials believe those products can help people quit smoking cigarettes.
Violating the ban may result in a verbal reminder from a park ranger, while persistent misconduct could lead to a trespassing arrest. But as of April, park rangers had issued a grand total of zero written citations for smoking under the 2010 rule.