Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA CITY HALL – The City Council came to order in typically languid fashion last night. With perhaps two dozen citizens waiting for them in Council Chamber, Councilmembers Paul Pitino and Sofia Periera drifted in, then Mayor Michael Winkler and finally, Councilmember Mark Wheetley.
A few seconds before 6:08 p.m. and with the usual lack of explanation for the delay to the waiting public, Winkler called the meeting to order.
The four-person City Council, with Councilmember Susan Ornelas absent, went on to approve an ordinance it isn’t thrilled about, and whose features it will start tinkering with and changing even before it goes into effect next month. If all goes according to plan, Arcata will have been governed by three separate smoking laws this year.
On March 4, the council introduced Ordinance 1451, devised by Police Chief Tom Chapman. It extends Arcata’s current downtown smoking ban city-wide, including all unenclosed public thoroughfares. An exception would allow smoking in most places as long as one was “actively passing through” the area.
As described in the ordinance, smoking will still be totally illegal on the Plaza, at the transit center, near entrances, in service lines and other locations.
The council was responding urgent pleas for a change in the current smoking law by residents of the Ninth and J streets neighborhood. Smokers presently congregate there, on the boundary of the downtown anti-smoking zone, and commit various annoying behaviors.
By introducing the new ordinance two weeks ago, the council took the first step to revising the law by eliminating the downtown boundary and ending the motivation for smokers to sit on its edge in the troubled neighborhood.
The council had commanded Chapman to identify some designated smoking areas near the Plaza and transit center. He’d also tried to work out some “time-of-use” restrictions, scaling smoking back or allowing it in some places in certain times of day. Last night Chapman asked the council for another month to get all that done, his ideas to be aired at the council's April 15 meeting.
Some councilmembers had expressed doubts about the enforceability of the ordinance’s “actively passing through” provision. They also insisted on identification and designation of smoker sanctuaries that aren’t included in it. Councilmember Mark Wheetley wanted to table the whole matter until the revised anti-smoking concept was mature, and not pass a “half-baked” ordinance.
City Attorney Nancy Diamond predicted that with all the new data and comment coming in on April 15, the council is going to need more time to take it all in and draft appropriate language.
She reminded the council that any changes would be defined in a subsequent, superseding ordinance to the one they were about to approve.
Since the next ordinance might not become law until June, most of the councilmembers agreed that something had to be done immediately for the sake of the suffering J Street neighbors, many of whom were in attendance.
Wheetley said he’d go along with the will of the council majority and vote for the ordinance.
At one point, Mayor Michael Winkler asked Chapman why he had reported back to the council on revising the ordinance.
Chapman gently reminded Winkler that the council had directed him to do so two weeks previous.
With that, the council approved the new, obsolete anti-smoking ordinance. It becomes law on April 17.
To summarize: The current anti-smoking law is in effect until April 17. Then smoking becomes prohibited city wide, unless you’re in motion and not standing around. Then, another new smoking law will be devised to scale down the ban zone, include smoker sanctuaries and time-of-use restrictions.