By Mike Allen
January 12, 2018 (Santee)--Smoking or vaping on Santee’s city trails such as the Walker Preserve and near Mast Park will no longer be legal following the City Council’s amending its code at its Jan. 10 meeting.
The newly amended law, that also bans smoking electronic cigarettes in the same areas, takes effect after the second reading of the measure Jan.24.
With the vote, Santee joins the rest of the 18 cities and San Diego county in prohibiting smoking on public trails, which is an obvious fire hazard. But the change didn’t go far enough for nearly all the speakers who testified before the council took its vote.
Lisa Bridges, a coordinator for Santee Solutions Coalition, said the city should expand the ban to all parks and open spaces, not just the trails. “In the future, you should broaden it, and make it more comprehensive,” Bridges said.
Having the ability to access smoke-free parks was among the major reasons why most people visited such areas, Bridges said.
Carol Green, from Community Action Service Advocacy, an East County nonprofit, also pushed the council to expand the smoking ban to include all the city parks and city open spaces, much like the rest of the county has.
Because the ban won’t affect city parks, many people will be confused about where the ban is in effect, and that will lead to less compliance, Green said.
Lorenzo Higley, chairman of Tobacco Free Communities Coalition, said second hand smoke was responsible for killing 80,000 people in the United States last year. “There is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke,” Higley said.
Sarah Shoudy, a senior at Santana High School, said she enjoys going to parks in her city but not when she has to endure second hand smoke and see so many discarded cigarette butts. She also asked to expand the ban to all city parks.
While most of the council agreed that banning smoking on trails was a wise move, only Stephen Houlahan indicated he wanted to expand the ban to all parks and open spaces.
“I want to make a motion for the big kibosh, but I’ll probably get kiboshed,” Houlahan said.
Ron McNelis took a different tack, saying limiting the freedoms of others “is not what the Constitution is all about.”
He disagreed with including vaping in the smoking ban, saying vaping doesn’t present a fire hazard nor a littering problem, and asked that part of the amendment be separated. The motion died when nobody seconded it.
The council also considered including now legalized marijuana in the ban, but were dissuaded from that by City Attorney Shawn Hagerty who assured them that marijuana smoking is already prohibited by state law in all public spaces.
The vote on the ordinance was approved, 4-1 with McNelis voting against it.
The Santee council also took the first steps towards changing the way its members are elected, voting to pursue establishing a system of district election of representatives.
Currently, the five councilmembers are selected by all the voters in the city. The system being adopted by many state cities entails setting up districts that would vote on a single seat. The mayor is usually selected by all the city’s voters. El Cajon approved district elections in 2016, and adopted the district map last year.
The rational given for the proposed change is to give minority populations more representation on an elected body.Yet several council members said they didn’t think it would improve things, and were against making the change.
“This could change the entire dynamics of how we govern our city and who governs our city,” said Mayor John Minto. All Santee council members are white men.
Several members said they were moving ahead with the approval to comply with a directive from the state’s Attorney General and California’s Voting Rights Act. Not doing so would likely incur a lawsuit, they said.
While some cities have sued to retain the at-large city wide voting selection process, the outcome of this litigation is unknown. If those cities prevailed, Santee could reverse its decision to adopt a district system of elections, McNelis said.
The council approved the measure to hire a consultant to help the city draw up a district map for a cost not to exceed $50,000. The vote was 4-1 with Ronn Hall opposed.
“It’s unfair to the public,” said Hall.