By Mike Allen
June 27, 2019 (Santee) -- In a stunning reversal of an earlier vote last month, Santee’s City Council rejected a watered down smoking ban for its parks, and approved an ordinance that bans the activity entirely.
The vote for a 100 percent smoking ban at its June 26 meeting was 4-1 with Councilman Rob McNelis opposed.
The Council voted May 22 to ban smoking in all of the city’s parks, but made an exception to allow smoking during special events at a designated section to be determined by its community services director.
That exception didn’t sit well with many residents and non-smokers who made their voices heard at subsequent public meetings, including the most recent.
When she heard that the ban voted on by the Council last month wouldn’t apply to all times and be permitted during certain events, resident Susan Josephson said she was compelled to speak out.
She noted the health dangers of inhaling second-hand smoke were evident, and that allowing the smoking during large public events set a bad example for children.
Thompson also noted that Santee was the only city in San Diego County not to prohibit smoking entirely in its parks.
Lynda Barbour, representing the American Cancer Society, said having a smoking ban that isn’t universal “is bad public policy.”
“It tends to create confusion, and tends to be hard to enforce. More importantly, it doesn’t protect the public,” Barbour said.
The item on the Council agenda appeared routine as most second readings are, but when the issue came up towards the end of the three-hour meeting, Councilman Stephen Houlahan asked to amend it so that the parks would be 100 percent smoke-free.
Councilwoman Laura Koval, who quickly seconded the motion, said smoking even within a special section would still cause harmful impacts to those nearby, and set a bad example to younger people. She also noted her youngest daughter has asthma and cannot handle inhaling smoke.
“Parks are clean, open green spaces…and one place that should be smoke free are parks,” Koval said.
McNelis maintained setting example is a parental role and said that having a designated smoking zone would be much safer than prohibiting it all together because smokers are going to do it anyway, and will likely go off into the bushes where they could more easily start a fire.
“I want our parks and concerts and major events to be for everybody, not just for people who don’t smoke,” he said.
McNelis attempted to get a second for the proposed ban with the exceptions, but it never came.
Mayor John Minto said he rarely changed his mind, but this was one case in which he did.
“The more and more I’ve been thinking about this, I’m moving away from (the proposed ban allowing some smoking),” Minto said. “There are some compelling reasons why we shouldn’t do this.”
Houlahan (who along with Koval had voted against the partial ban last month) spoke forcefully against the proposed ordinance that allowed smoking at special events. “This continues to be a black eye for Santee,” he said. “Why are we the only hold-out?”
When it became clear the partial smoking ban didn’t have sufficient votes to pass (due to Minto switching sides), Houlahan made his motion to install a complete smoking ban.
The vote to install a complete smoking ban and hold a first reading was 4-1, with McNelis still opposed. The ordinance will be read for a second time at the next Council meeting scheduled for July 24, and take effect 30 days after that vote. The regularly scheduled July 10 meeting is canceled in advance because of summer recess.
In 2018, the Santee Council banned smoking on all of its public trails, but it was still permitted in its parks. The smoking ban also applies to vaping, but not to marijuana smoking because that activity is already prohibited in public by state law.