No smoking rules set for underpass walkway

No smoking rules set for underpass walkway
Rigo Velazco, right, and friend, both U.S. Marines, would like to be able to smoke while they travel through the underpass. The city views secondhand smoke of loiterers and walkers as a health danger. Photo by Promise Yee

OCEANSIDE — City Council unanimously approved Aug. 10 the introduction of a no-smoking zone within 25-feet of the Pier View Way Underpass, which is a well-traveled walkway from the city’s downtown to the beach.

A similar smoking ban was unanimously approved in May 2015 for the outdoor pier amphitheater and adjacent plaza area.

Both of the no-smoking zones provide a smoke-free public area, and give police a tool to address individuals who are loitering and smoking.

Police Chief Frank McCoy said the underpass is a place smokers congregate, and this forces walkers to breathe in secondhand smoke.

The city staff report on the proposed rule says smoke will accumulate and linger even if people are walking. It also notes littered cigarette butts are left by smokers.

The report goes on to say the allowance of smoking encourages camping, further littering and human waste in the walkway, which have been reported in complaints.

Council members shared concerns on how the situation effects quality of life and safety.

Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery said groups gathered in the underpass make it intimidating for people who are walking through.

He and fellow council members voiced support for the additional tool the regulation gives police.

McCoy said the no-smoking zone is a start.

“We’re evaluating different options to make the underpass more cohesive,” McCoy said. “The

introduction of a no-smoking ordinance would be one step toward that.”

Following the vote Lowery said other measures the city is looking into are improving the line of sight for police, and piping in classical music, which has been proven to deter loitering.

A visit to the underpass walkway three days after the vote found a group of five men leaning on the underpass wall, three of whom were smoking.

One of the men, who held a sign requesting donations and who was not smoking at the time, said he heard of the pending no-smoking rule. He indicated he would not loiter there once a rule was in place. “That’s why I’m trying to make my money now,” he said.

Pedestrians using the walkway kept to the side opposite the men and passed without incident.

Among those walking through were two U.S. Marines who were smoking as they headed to the beach.

Rigo Velazco, a Marine from El Paso, Texas, said he did not support the regulation.

“We’re just walking, it has nothing to do with actually standing (and loitering),” Velazco said.

He added, as a Marine he would not discard his cigarette butt on the walkway, but would take the responsibility to put it in his pocket.

His comments echoed initial community objections to the city’s no-smoking ban for restaurant and bar outdoor patios, which included the right to smoke on public sidewalks, and behavior of considerate smokers.

The ban was proposed in June 2013, while former Councilman Gary Felien served. It did not go to a council vote.

The City Council reintroduced a revised no-smoking ban for patios in March 2015, which passed. By that time Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery was elected to council. Councilman Jerry Kern and Councilman Jack Feller voted against the regulation.

Council will cast a final vote on the underpass no-smoking zone at a future meeting. Smoking will be allowed in areas outside the underpass.

The city also has no-smoking rules at its parks and beaches.

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