Modesto parkgoers react to smoking ban

Modesto's Park Smoking Ban

People at Dry Creek Regional Park comment about Modesto's plan to ban smoking in its parks on Sunday, March 5, 2017. Kevin Valine/
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People at Dry Creek Regional Park comment about Modesto's plan to ban smoking in its parks on Sunday, March 5, 2017. Kevin Valine/

Modesto’s effort to ban smoking in its parks and on its trails – including the Virginia Corridor – drew mixed responses from parkgoers Sunday, from those who support it and say it promotes a healthy lifestyle to those who believe the city is being heavy-handed and question whether it can enforce the prohibition.

The City Council on Feb. 28 voted 6-1 to ban smoking in city parks and trails and within 100 feet of the entrance and exit of a hospital. The council is expected to give its final approval to the ban Tuesday, and it would take effect 30 days after that. Modesto would join Patterson, Hughson and Turlock in banning smoking in parks.

Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer cast the “no” vote. She is concerned that the ban targets the homeless and that Modesto does not have the resources to enforce it. Police Chief Galen Carroll has said he expects enforcement would be based on complaints. The citations for violating the ban are $100 to $1,000.

The ban applies to cigarettes, marijuana and vaping. Modesto already prohibits the use of tobacco products within 50 feet of children’s play areas, including park playgrounds.

Sandra Balderas, who was training at Dry Creek Regional Park for a half marathon, said the ban is the right thing to do. “I think it’s a good thing,” she said after completing a 10-mile run. “I don’t want to run through a cloud of smoke. Plus the trash with the cigarette butts. It (smoking) does not promote a healthy image of what a park should be, people running, walking their dogs, children playing.”

But two other nonsmokers had questions.

Julia Villanueva, who was in the park with her 2-year-old daughter, Elenor, said she understands what Modesto is doing and does not want to smell cigarette smoke. But she wondered how the city would enforce the rules and what else it might ban. “Good luck enforcing it,” she said.

Doug Beaumont, who was in the park with his 5-year-old daughter, Ember, thought this might be governmental overreach. He said it makes sense to ban smoking in offices and other confined spaces where nonsmokers cannot avoid tobacco’s impact. But he said this is not the case in parks and other outdoor spaces. “It seems a bit much,” he said. “I probably would not support it.”

Councilwoman Kristi Ah You and some of her constituents in the college area asked the city for the ban. She has said this was to promote health and reduce litter.

But college-area residents have complained about public drunkenness, the selling and using of drugs, littering, vandalism and other bad behavior in Graceada and Enslen parks as well as crime in their neighborhood. These parks – like many throughout Modesto – are frequented by the homeless.

“They are trying to ban the homeless. That’s what they are trying to do,” said Vinny, who is homeless and was smoking a cigarette in the Graceada Park pavilion Sunday afternoon. He declined to give his last name. “Bottom line, they are trying to get rid of the homeless. We are an eyesore.”

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316