In a bizarre sequence of procedures, the city council banned smoking outdoors in public places Wednesday. Kind of.
The “secondhand smoke” ordinance that the body finally passed on a 3-2 vote prohibits smoking outdoors in most public areas, with some exemptions that council members disagreed on.
But before that vote, in which Mayor Steve Tate and council member Larry Carr voted no, the council unanimously approved an earlier version of the ordinance at the same meeting.
Several minutes after that vote, which followed a public hearing, and after members of the public who were concerned about the ordinance left the meeting thinking the issue was over, council member Rich Constantine asked to “reconsider” the ordinance.
He said when he voted the first time he thought the ordinance contained an exception for users of the Outdoor Sports Center on Condit Road, which he wanted to include.
The first vote did not include that exemption, but the final ordinance does. The exemption allows those who rent the OSC to designate a smoking area for organized events. A similar exemption exists for users of the city’s Community and Cultural Center, and for private businesses with outdoor patios when those facilities are fully reserved for private parties.
Carr and Tate thought adding the exception for the CCC was a “compromise” to balance the rights of smokers and non-smokers, and would be a good test during a six-month review to determine how many users of the facility would request smoking areas.
However, adding the OSC went too far, Carr said. He said allowing a smoking area at the sports facility is the “absolute opposite” of what the outdoor smoking ordinance was meant to achieve, which is to shield children and non-smokers from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.
“We will never lose a soccer tournament at the (OSC) because we don’t have a designated smoking area,” Carr said. “It sends the wrong message for Morgan Hill, for our kids and what we’re trying to achieve.”
The exception was added with more “adult oriented” uses of the OSC in mind, such as the upcoming No Bull BBQ contest and Firefighters Chili Cookoff. These are not traditional uses of the sports fields, but the nonprofit Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance which the city hired to run the facility incorporated such uses into the facility’s business plan, according to MHYSA president Jeff Dixon.
“For the tournaments we already ask people not to smoke,” Dixon said. Organizers of upcoming non-sports related events have not brought up the issue of smoking at the facility, he added.
Constantine said while protecting people from secondhand smoke is important, it is also key that the ordinance does not discourage economic development and revenue growth, as Chamber of Commerce directors have stated in recent weeks in their opposition to the policy.
Allowing an exception to the OSC, where a bigger variety of users is sought, would be one less “barrier” to economic development.
“Morgan Hill is becoming a destination,” Constantine said. “If we remove as many barriers as we can, that’s beneficial. And people have the right to smoke just as non-smokers have the right to breathe fresh air.”
Carr said the OSC was “not envisioned as an events center,” and was developed solely to accommodate sports games and tournaments. The city’s contract with MHYSA requires all applications for non-sports events at the facility to be approved by city staff.
Added Tate, “It is an outdoor SPORTS complex and we should not allow any smoking around sports events.”
The ordinance specifically prohibits smoking outdoors in dining areas, near building entryways (including windows and vents) facing the street or sidewalk, public events such as the Mushroom Mardi Gras, recreation areas and service areas such as ATM lines and bus stops.
The 3-2 approval of the final ordinance and the odd sequence of votes Wednesday marks an end to a period of council indecision. Last week, Constantine was absent and the council was scheduled to vote on the ordinance but could not reach a majority, so they tabled the item until Wednesday.
Council member Marilyn Librers changed her position on the ordinance since the previous meeting. She said the new amendments and exemptions to the smoking ban are not as restrictive on business activity as the original ordinance was.