Jeff Jardine

Is impending smoking ban creating a whiff of change in Modesto parks?

The city of Modesto will ban smoking in its 75 public parks and also from with 100 feet of hospital entrances and exits. A smoker who would give only her first name, Clyiesha, holds a thin cigar on Monday, March 27, 2017.
The city of Modesto will ban smoking in its 75 public parks and also from with 100 feet of hospital entrances and exits. A smoker who would give only her first name, Clyiesha, holds a thin cigar on Monday, March 27, 2017. jjardine@modbee.com

About three days a week when the weather is nice, a 65-year-old retiree named Lawrence takes his lunch to Graceada Park in Modesto.

He takes a seat in the Mancini Bowl and enjoys the outdoors. He watches people come and go. He sees the homeless sleeping on the lawns. He sees parents bringing their young children to the playgrounds.

Just about every day between noon and 1 p.m., he’d see a group of women walk through the park to the same music venue, where they sat down to talk and smoke cigarettes.

“Anywhere from three to seven, but usually three,” he told me. “They work in the area. They have badges just like yours. They must not be allowed to smoke in their offices.”

But they stopped coming to the park, he said, after The Bee’s Kevin Valine earlier this month reported the Modesto City Council had voted 6-1 to ban smoking in the city’s 75 public parks, including the Virginia Corridor, and within 100 feet of hospital entrances and exits.

“They were here every day until the article came out,” he said.

Could an ordinance that won’t go into effect until next week make that kind of impact? The city would certainly hope so. Because police really don’t want to spend their time patrolling the park to pinch people puffing Parliaments, pot or vapes (e-cigarettes). Nor do they plan to.

Certainly, there will be people who ignore the ordinance and smoke. Modesto police Lt. Rigo DeAlba said that initially at least and until signs go up, officers will respond to complaints by other park users about violators. They will approach smokers and explain the new ban. Repeat offenders could be handed administrative citations that will cost $100 and up. With the price of a pack of cigarettes averaging $5.89 in California, a $100 fine would be equal to the cost of 17 packs.

You certainly won’t find parents in the park who oppose the ordinance. They want their children to play in a smoke-free environment. They want to know their young kids can play in the sand or bark and not worry about whether they reach down and pick up a Marlboro filter end.

A dad named Kenny, who stayed on the sidewalk to finish his cigarette Monday while his young son ran off to the play structure, is all for it the ban and stronger enforcement than is likely.

“I don’t want people smoking around my kids,” he said. “A crackdown would be good.”

Sylvia Costilla, who brings her 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Vivian, to the park weekly, said she never sees parents smoking around the children. Yet, she needed only to look on the sand a foot away from her shoe to find a couple of cigarette butts in the play area. She wouldn’t have a problem with smokers if they stayed well away from the children’s play areas.

“Having a designated smoking area is a better idea (than a total ban),” she said.

Others parents, including Emily Duncan, Ashley Delello and Maja Hart, all said marijuana smokers are as much of a problem as cigarette smokers in the parks.

“Earlier today, I saw a couple smoking pot,” she said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate around the kids.”

“Go over by the bathroom and you’ll smell marijuana,” Hart said.

But not in the Mancini Bowl on Monday, as Lawrence the retired guy could attest as he sat in the spring sunshine. Perhaps the usual crew of women, as he suspected, read the story and thought the ban already is in effect, but no smoke of any kind wafted through the area. No tobacco, no pot, no vape.

He enjoyed his lunch and the fresh air, too.

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