It’s already illegal to smoke tobacco products in City pavilions and playgrounds, but a new law unanimously passed by City Council on Thursday will make it illegal to smoke – or use any tobacco product – in all City parks and public plazas.

Starting June 1, the penalty for smoking, vaping, or chewing tobacco in those spaces will be $200.

When the City was considering a smoke-free plan more than a decade ago, a ban on smoking in public parks was one of the most controversial decisions in front of City Council, said interim Councilman Art Hall (D2) who represented District 8 at the time.

But the attitudes and science behind the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke have drastically changed as evidenced by the lack of legitimate protest Thursday.

The City engaged neighborhood groups, business associations, and residents throughout the process of developing the new SA Parks System Plan, which also was approved Thursday, and found vast support to a tobacco ban, said Jennifer Herriott, interim director of the City’s Metropolitan Health District.

More than 400 individuals signed a petition in the Woodlawn Lake area to ban tobacco, she said.

“Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable disease,” Herriott said. “It causes over half a million deaths annually and over the last 50 years … it [has] caused 20 million premature deaths in the United States.”

The City will deploy education and awareness efforts, signs, and other ways to inform the public of the new law before the ban takes effect, said Parks and Recreation Director Xavier D. Urrutia. “We’re really looking at a positive message about being able to swim [run, bike, picnic] in a park smoke-free.”

A grant from the U.S. Department of Health will help pay for the signage, Urrutia said, and the ban has no budgetary impact to the City.

In 2010, City Council voted to prohibit indoor smoking throughout the City limits. In 2015, it added Travis Park and Main Plaza to the list of non-smoking areas. The more recent Tobacco 21 ordinance took effect in October 2018 and increased the age required to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

City Financials Get Gold Star From Auditors

The City’s annual external audit, performed by an independent certified accountant, came back with no evidence of inaccuracies, City Manager Erik Walsh told City Council on Thursday.

“Zero findings, with an unmodified opinion, means the City’s financial records are accurate and provide a true and fair view of the City’s financial standing,” according to a City news release.

“Over the last several years, we’ve focused on improvements to our financial reporting,” Walsh stated in the release. “Not only is this proof of the continued hard work of our Finance team, but it’s also a testament to our organizational philosophy to be good stewards of public funds—we are truly the best financially managed city in the country.”

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Walsh was promoted and appointed to the top administrative position earlier this year after 13-year City Manager Sheryl Sculley retired.

A financial clean bill of health helps the City maintain its near-perfect bond ratings.

“This is a significant accomplishment given the size and complexity of our organization,” Chief Financial Officer Ben Gorzell stated.  “An audit with zero findings verifies our strong financial management and is the realization of the dedicated efforts of our Finance team.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com