Town Square

Post a New Topic

Fighting crime in Palo Alto by banning smoking?

Original post made by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Aug 21, 2006

As part of a clamp down on crime in Palo Alto, a new ordinance is being drafted that would ban drinking and smoking in all city parks.


The proposed ordinance is part of “Operation Safe Neighborhoods,” a concept created by Mayor Judy Kleinberg and city officials. By early August, we had 131 burglaries since Jan. 1, compared to 169 for the entire previous year. The program hopes to put more police patrols on the streets, and get city employees, like utilities workers, meter readers and firefighters, to keep their eyes and ears open when they are at work in our community.

All well and good.

But Kleinberg said that smoking and drinking are responsible for “antisocial gatherings” and an implied subsequent criminal activity, and hence the proposed ban in the parks.

Now I quit smoking 20 years ago, yet I would be very hard-pressed to say that people who smoke may be potential criminals or likely to burglarize our homes, especially if they smoke in parks.

I know a number of people who smoke (including one of my sons) and they are nice ordinary citizens who, at worst, are addicted to tobacco. Sure, they go to parties, but they certainly are not especially into “antisocial gatherings.” So the logic of this ordinance escapes me.

Palo Alto, since the early 1990s, bans alcohol in city parks — unless you get a permit in advance. But smoking in parks has been permitted.

Now if Palo Alto wants to ban smoking in parks or parts of parks for health reasons, that’s a different issue. All that would be needed is an ordinance approved by the council banning smoking, just as we ban smoking in public buildings. (Whether the ban is a good idea would have to be debated.)

But the underlying intent of the proposed no-smoking-in-the parks ordinance is that it is part of a sweeping anti-crime effort.

And when such a ban is proposed implying that only bad people (e.g. burglars and other criminals) smoke, it feels to me like this is a new way for government to control people’s behavior under false pretenses.

In these troubled times, our governments, whether they be federal or local, can overreact in their zeal to keep people safe. This certainly has been true with the federal government’s attempts to “fight terrorism” by doing such things as wiretapping Americans.

The same can be said for our city. In its zeal to protect residents against burglaries, I think banning smoking in our parks to ward off burglars is an overreach.

Comments (24)

Like this comment
Posted by Zero tolerance
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2006 at 7:05 pm

There is nothing wrong with banning smoking in parks. They are after all Public parks and one thing I know for sure is that I hate second hand smoke and it can also kill you. period. I agree with your statement that just because you smoke doesn't mean your a criminal...unless its a crime to kill ones self by smoking : )

A zero tolerance should be taken; one other thing that I would love to see the City crack down on is the loud thumping music coming from cars driving all through the city especially those that drive through the neighborhoods late in the evening. And those driving down University avenue in the early evening. Other towns do not tolerate this, why do we?

Like this comment
Posted by Bob Harrington
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 22, 2006 at 7:22 am

SECOND HAND SMOKE is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, chronic ailments such as bronchitis and asthma, and low birth-weight births. Exposure to second hand smoke is estimated to result in tens of thousands of deaths annually in the United States alone and over one million illnesses in children.

Banning deadly second hand smoke for public health and safety reasons is exactly correct. For Diana Diamond to suggest otherwise for any peripheral reason shamefully plays into the hands of the insidious tobacco industry which specializes in spreading untruths and misdirection to perpetuate their business of killing and maiming smokers and innocent non-smokers alike. Health care costs we all must pay continue to trend higher, thanks in no small part to the tobacco industry.

I am pleased to see that respected elected officials recognize that banning smoking in Palo Alto public parks is long overdue.

Like this comment
Posted by Ban people
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 22, 2006 at 8:57 am

One quick way to stop all crime could be to ban people in the parks. If we are at it might as well go all out.

No people => No Crime

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 22, 2006 at 7:57 pm

I've never seen an obituary where it says the person died of second hand smoke.

Like this comment
Posted by Judy Kleinberg
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2006 at 10:17 pm

I'm glad to see the discussion of a proposed ban on drinking and smoking in neighborhood parks. I look forward to reading/hearing more comments. But let me set the record straight.

First of all, alcohol is not banned in our neighborhood parks -- it is banned in our two downtown parks, but nowhere else. Second, the proposal would allow alcohol for city-sponsored events and perhaps allow it if someone has taken out a permit. How we would handle the occasional glass of wine or beer at a picnic or barbeque would need to be worked out, but enforcement would be on a complaint only basis.

Third, I didn't say "smoking and drinking are responsible for antisocial gatherings.” I did say that banning these two activities might discourage antisocial gatherings. In fact, I made a point of saying there was no documented connection between any gatherings in our parks and neighborhood crime -- and they are not connected as a "sweeping anticrime effort." These matters, safety in our parks and crime in our neighborhoods are only connected because they were raised by neighbors at the same time and so it made sense to address them at the same time.

Finally, I did say that neighbors have complained about this and felt uncomfortable having their children at the parks when groups of people are there drinking and smoking -- adults may feel uncomfortable as well.

As for smoking, many recreational areas, including parks and beaches, now ban smoking. It's a dangerous practice in parks where it can start fires, and an undeniably unhealthy practice, both for the smoker and those exposed to the smoke. As for those who are nonsmokers trying to enjoy their parks in a healthy way, second hand smoke is unwelcome and unhealthy. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that second-hand smoke contains a mixture of more than 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which are carcinogens, cancer-causing agents. The CDC says that second-hand smoke is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer and coronary heart disease in nonsmoking adults. Exposure to second-hand smoke is also associated with an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia in young children.

Smoking has been banned in all parks and beaches in San Diego, and similar bans have been passed in Del Mar and Solana Beach, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and several cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Back east, the State of Rhode Island has one of the most far-reaching bans covering virtually every indoor workplace. The law specifically lists: aquariums, galleries, libraries, museums, bars, bingo halls, convention facilities, elevators, movie theaters, performance spaces, health care facilities, licensed child care and adult day care facilities, polling places, restaurants, retail stores, places of public assembly, schools, malls, and sports arenas, including outdoor complexes. Also covered are public transportation facilities, including buses and taxicabs under the authority of the state of Rhode Island, and ticket, boarding and waiting areas of public transit depots as well as lobbies, hallways and other common areas in apartment buildings, condominiums, trailer parks, retirement facilities, nursing homes and other multiple unit residential facilities with more than four units. The law also bans smoking in places used by the general public, including professional offices, banks, laundromats, hotels and motels.

So if Palo Altans want to ban smoking in our neighorhood parks, this would hardly be cutting edge.

Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 23, 2006 at 7:23 pm

I am not a smoker and I do not like smoking. I do no choose to be around people who are smoking. However, what disturbs me more than the irritating behavior of smokers is the increasing loss of freedom that I see around me.

Smokers in the open are a nuisance, if you do not like them move away or ask them to leave. So are loud crying babies, boom boxes in cars and parks, people who insist on talking on cell phones in public and skateboarders- I am certain you can add your own daily irritations.

What is terrifying is that all around us we are losing freedom. A little bit at a time and all for the best of reasons. I will take the problem of second hand smoke in open parks and all the other bits of irritation that go along with living around other people and keep my freedom.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Saari
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2006 at 8:33 am

Leslie makes a good point. To be sure, perhaps it's not a bad idea to ban smoking in public parks, but there is a trade-off with the loss of freedom involved. As far as I can tell, there has been absolutely no discussion of this trade-off in the debate over the smoking ban.

Indeed, the Mayor cites with apparent approval (or at least with hint that they might be going too far) the much broader smoking bans in other cities. Government is necessary to protect us from those who would do us harm either intentionally (as in the case of criminals and terrorists), or inadvertently (as may be the case with public smokers). But as both Diana and Leslie suggest, government officials who become too self-impressed with their own sense of righteousness, risk trampling on our basic freedoms.

We see this most often at the national level, with all the hollow justifications for wiretapping, domestic spying and the like - even though these things are done with the sincere intention of keeping us safe.

The same thing can happen even in a little town like Palo Alto. Recently, I described Mayor Kleinberg's avowal to turn postings on this forum over to the police as "mildly authoritarian". I didn't like using this term when I wrote it, but I couldn't think of anything more descriptive. I'm sure the Mayor was acting with the best of motives, but once more she seems totally blind to the harm her well intentioned actions might have - especially when backed up by the power of government.

All that being said, I'm glad the mayor is reading and commenting on these forums. Too often, our council members have seemed remote and out of touch to those of us not part of the city establishment. Kleinberg's willingness to engage directly with her critics on this board is encouraging. Now if only she can resist the urge to turn us over to the police...

Like this comment
Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 24, 2006 at 3:00 pm

Firstly, if you see someone smoking in a park, how do you know that it is tobacco they are smoking? Drug dealing in parks is quite a common practice and drug dealers peddling their wares to teenagers are certainly one group I would like to see out of our parks. Where there are drugs, come on you know, crime even of a petty nature follows. I am not saying that I condone banning smoking but they do have a point.

Secondly, I have never smoked, ever, but I did grow up in a home with a heavy smoker. True, I am still alive to tell the tail and I do know what second hand smoke is. But, I think we have to take things into perspective. There are smokers among us and yes generally they are quite nice people. When my father comes to visit me now, I do not want him smoking in my home. But, I do want him to be able to take a walk in the park and indulge in his addiction where it isn't going to bother anyone unduly. As long as he is sensible in smoking at least a few feet from anyone else enjoying the park and he is making sure that his butts end up in the trash, what harm is he doing anyone. I am sure the average park visitor gets more pollution from a barbeque grill than from my Dad's smoke. So please let us be sensible about this.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2006 at 3:55 pm

Fascist overnment has killed far more people than first hand smoke. It took smoke and mirror stats to implicate second hand smoke. Were it not for smokers, we would all be speaking Japanese or German.

Like this comment
Posted by Give me a break
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 24, 2006 at 7:01 pm

Hey Great Idea Mayor...When all of our overworked, under staffed police officers are responding to the "dangerous smoker" calls, who is going to watch for the real criminals...Oh wait I forgot, public works.

Like this comment
Posted by Grace
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 25, 2006 at 10:51 am

I'm glad to see this proposed smoking ban in parks. Secondhand smoke certainly is a health risk, for which there is plenty of scientiic documentation, as well as a nuisance. Smokers just seem not to realize how far the stench of smoke carries, and that it permeates clothes and hair until they are washed.

Surely we've already had the discussion about the inadvisability and futility of having to ask people who don't give a darn not to smoke.

The first thing I ever read by Diana Diamond was an article in the Murky News defending her children's right to have loud music on that disturbed the neighbors. I see she is still as self-centered as ever.

Like this comment
Posted by Marianne
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 25, 2006 at 3:07 pm

I am one of the last smokers in Palo Alto (I guess - and I hope
to join the ranks of the ex-smokers) and I am very careful about
where I smoke. I don't smoke at home, since I live in an
apartment building that is far from airtight and I know my
neighbors get some second-hand stink, if not exactly smoke.
I don't smoke on the sidewalk. I seek out LARGE parks where
I can sit on a bench that is A) far from everyone in the park
at the time B) clearly visible to anyone coming into the park.
If anyone walks nearby, I make a special effort NOT to smoke when
they are anywhere near, to avoid subjecting them to second hand

Now, I am exposed to car exhaust, like everyone else. I think
if people were as exercised about the dangers of car exhaust
to our health and to the environment, this would do more than
the effort to ban smoking in any public place.

Perhaps this will seem like a contradiction, but I try to
put my feet where my mouth is: I ride a bicycle, I don't
drive my car anymore. So apologies if you wander near
me when I'm lit up; perhaps my not contributing to the
exhaust you breath is a tiny help.

Like this comment
Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Aug 25, 2006 at 6:28 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Mayor Judy –

Thank you for your comments and thoughts; it’s interesting for our community – and fun – to have a dialogue. (See blog above from Mayor Judy Kleinberg.)

I would like to respond to a few of your points. You said, “alcohol is not banned in our neighborhood parks – it is banned in our two downtown parks, but nowhere else.”

Before I wrote the blog, I drove around parts of the city to check, and while there is no sign at Hoover Park in Midtown about alcohol, at both Riconada Park on Embarcadero Road and at Mitchell Park on Middlefield Road and East Meadow, there are signs that say alcohol by permit only.

Neither park is downtown. However, the new Heritage Park, which is downtown, has no sign.

In 1991, the then-City Council members by a 7-1 vote recommended a ban of alcohol in our parks, except by permit. If, as you apparently suggest, it was rescinded since then, I could not find that on our city’s web site. Our park signs seem to suggest that is still the ordinance.

I was not at your press conference that you held to talk specifically about clamping down on crime in Palo Alto, but it was at that session that you proposed a ban against smoking and drinking in parks. I checked with one of the reporters present and he said this and your “antisocial behavior” comments were correct. Safety in the parks,” as you pointed out, was brought up at this city’s “Operation Safe Neighborhoods” press conference, and that is when you introduced the no-smoking-or-drinking-in-parks proposal. So if I drew the wrong conclusion, I do apologize,

Finally, the point I was making was not whether we should have an anti-smoking and/or anti-alcohol ban in the parks, but that if we are going to think about such an ordinance then we should do so as just that – and not as part of our anti-crime measures.

I am sure there are many people in this community, including yourself, that think that smoking in public places, including parks, should be prohibited, as, perhaps, should alcohol. That’s understandable.

My point was that the smoking issue should be debated as a health issue, not as a crime or safety-in-the-parks issue. Personally, I think such a ban on smoking may be appropriate in children’s play areas or where there are group events, but I can’t see much harm in a person sitting alone on a bench, away from people, having a cigarette.

Government, including local government, may not need to control our every move to make us safe from ourselves.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 25, 2006 at 9:57 pm

If I used the "science" that was used to indict second hand smoke to justify a new product I would go to jail.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Behrens
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2006 at 4:59 am

The "science" claiming dangers of secondhand smoke INDOORS is bogus and fraudulent, as anyone who impartially researches the issue will soon discover. As for OUTDOORS, in a park or anywhere else, I say, show me the evidence. Where are the studies, the science, the research even claiming, much less proving (watch out for junk science!) health risks of tobacco smoke outdoors? You can't cite them, because they don't exist. And if you think that surely it must be a risk of some sort, even if we don't have the proof, then I say you are acting more from emotion than logic. And even if there were some infinitesimal risk, but you still had some desire to be a rational person, then it would make much more sense to first ban the internal combustion engine. (I ride a bike myself.) Smoking in the parks has been banned in San Francisco for over a year now. So I quit going to the parks, except occasionally just to have a smoke in defiance. Happy now? Just like I quit going to restaurants in 1995, when the ban came in. And bars in 1998. They no longer get any of my money. Glad about that? I bet the owners aren't. As for linking smoking in the parks, or anywhere else, with criminal behavior, that's precisely what the professional antismokers want to achieve. In fact, their increasingly obvious long term goal is for smoking to BE criminal behavior! Anywhere. Total Prohibition. Complete Lifestyle Control. For your own good, of course.

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Sep 1, 2006 at 8:12 am

i think this has gone just about far enough. Every decent tax paying citizen who enjoys alcohol and/or tobacco should let the mayor have a piece of his/her mind. I'll take Europe any day--they knwo something about freedom aver there that we've let politicians legislate out of existence here. Shame on the American people if we continue to tolerate this "soft" fascism!

Like this comment
Posted by Becky
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2006 at 9:35 am

"As for those who are nonsmokers trying to enjoy their parks in a healthy way, second hand smoke is unwelcome and unhealthy."

Wow. THEIR parks? Do nonsmokers now exclusively own the parks of Palo Alto? And when, exactly, did smokers stop paying their share of the taxes to fund these parks?

Let's be honest here. This isn't about health. There is absolutely no science to support the idea that secondhand smoke is a health hazard in wide open, outdoor spaces. And to suggest otherwise, is really to insult the intelligence of smokers and nonsmokers alike. What this IS about is a blatant and shameful hatred for the sight and smell of smokers themselves. It is, in fact, about discrimination of the highest order.

So here's a suggestion that might allow you to sleep better at night: Instead of instigating a mob-rule policy that runs an entire class of citizens out of the last bit of public square available to them, why not place a couple of park benches in a designated area for smokers who want to enjoy a legal product in THEIR parks?

Like this comment
Posted by brandz
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2006 at 8:49 pm

another reason NOT to visit or vacation in california. i will go elsewhere to spend my money, thank you very much.

Like this comment
Posted by Faith Hall
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2006 at 12:01 pm

Mayor Judy said "The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that second-hand smoke contains a mixture of more than 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which are carcinogens, cancer-causing agents. The CDC says that second-hand smoke is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer and coronary heart disease in nonsmoking adults. Exposure to second-hand smoke is also associated with an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia in young children."

That is pretty much the "party line", however this applies to confined areas, and not the wide open spaces of parks. By irresponsibly suggesting that these are reasons to prohibit smoking in parks by public statement, only further creates an atmosphere where "neighbors have complained about this and felt uncomfortable having their children at the parks when groups of people are there drinking and smoking -- adults may feel uncomfortable as well."

Smokers have been told to take it outside to avoid the risks associated with confined areas and restricted ventilation. But the intolerance of those promoting such park bans clearly demonstrate the health implications they cite are a ruse, and if public official are content with deceiving the public in this regard, one must question if these risks have been overstated for indoor environments as well.

Further it seems rather inconsistant to propose additional enforcement efforts which are being driven by intolerance of other individuals, when law enforcement officials are facing a difficult time with keeping down real crime. It sounds counter productive for an anti-crime initutive.

Like this comment
Posted by kathy
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2006 at 8:13 am

This is all about social class. Here in New York, our famously antismoking mayor recently drew fire for 1.) being caught on camera puffing away (illegally) on a cigar at some gathering of fat cats and 2.) admitting that the open container laws were selectively enforced: working class folks with beer at Rockaway Beach were given summonses; not so the brie-and-chardonnay crowd picnicking outside the Metropolitan Museum. Bloomberg as much as said that the non-rich are a "criminal class". Sounds like your mayor has similar aspirations to turn her community into one unfriendly to those who make less than acertain amount.

Like this comment
Posted by Judy Kleinberg
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2006 at 1:53 am

This has been an enlightening dialogue. I'm glad Diana started it. I was hoping to get some feedback that would allow us to jointly analyze this idea. The original idea stemmed from the linkage that's been made between smoking, drinking and anti-social behavior. But I'm fairly convinced now, from the thoughtful points many have made, that a park smoking ban would be ill advised.

I'm still interested in the main issue of alcohol and hearing from Palo Altans about the idea of restricting alcohol in neighborhood parks except for those with permits and for city-sponsored events, with enforcement on a complaint only basis.

Admittedly it would be a burden on those who, for example, just want some wine or beer (or whatever) for a picnic or barbeque and so would seemingly "punish" folks who just want to enhance a relaxing social time with some alcohol (assuming someone complained). But I've heard from a lot of folks who think it would be a good move because it might help control some anti-social behavior by those that hang around our neighborhood parks drinking too much, which isn't by itself illegal, but can potentially result in anti-social behavior, causing parents to be fearful of them being around their children who want to play there, or maybe even fearful for anyone. It is banned now in our two downtown parks. What do you think?

Like this comment
Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Sep 6, 2006 at 8:44 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Mayor Judy -

Before I wrote this blog I did a bit of research on previous Palo Alto City Council discussions on banning alcohol in city parks. Back in 1991,as I recall, there was a similar council discussion over such a ban, with some council members suggesting that a ban could help control anti-social behavior, and others pointing out that some residents would be deprived of a glass of wine at a family picnic. The police chief at the time said that alcohol in parks was not a behavioral problem, and that there were few if any inebriated people in our parks.

Before imposing such a ban, I would like some current statistics from our police chief as to whether alcohol use is creating a problem in our parks. If so, then the city could take some action, if not, then why impose a ban?

At times residents' fears are not always based on facts.

I will call the police chief today to find out whether alcohol in parks is a problem.

And I join you in appreciation of the thoughtful dialogue that has taken place on this subject.


Like this comment
Posted by ziggy
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 6, 2006 at 8:55 am

Anyone ever been to Europe? You can have a drink in the park--or even walking doen the street-- and it's perfectly fine, unless you become obnoxious and then they have laws against "public drunkenness. In some countries, the passengers (NOT the driver) in a car can have open containers. The open container laws in this country are a hangover from Prohibition, a compromise when it was repealed, insuring the temperance crowd that they wouldn't have to be offended by the sight of someone consuming alcohol. The real problem is our cultural bagggage that alcohol is somehow criminal. In other countries, it's just part of life and they teach their kids to be responsible.

Like this comment
Posted by diana diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Sep 8, 2006 at 10:46 am

diana diamond is a registered user.

I checked with Police Chief Lynne Johnson and asked her about alcohol problems at our city parks. She said that at Johnson Park and Scott Street Park alcohol is banned, because the parks are open until 10:30 p.m. and there have been some problems there. Alcohol is also banned at several other parks, including Hopkins, Robles, Boulware, Greer and Cogswell Plaza, because there have previously been problems at these parks. A permit is required to have alcohol at Rinconada and Mitchell parks.

Alcohol is allowed at a number of parks, including Hoover, Bol, Mayfield, Monroe, Peers, El Camino, Esther Clark, Briones, El Palo Alto, Terman and Heritage. "There are not really any problems with alcohol in these parks," Johnson said, other than occasionally at Briones.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Burger chain Shake Shack to open in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 20 comments | 5,069 views

This time we're not lying. HONEST! No, really!
By Douglas Moran | 11 comments | 891 views

Couples: When Wrong Admit It; When Right; Shut Up
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 786 views

One-on-one time
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 586 views