It is now illegal to smoke or drink alcohol within 50 feet of any city playground equipment or skate/bike park, thanks to the passage of an ordinance by the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday evening.
However, drinking and smoking will still be allowed under the cover of park pavilions -- which are traditionally used for class reunions or office get-togethers -- and on the grounds of the Ralph Soberg House in Soldotna Creek Park.
"How far is 50 feet?" asked Robert Ruffner, the executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, who wondered if the law would prevent people from grilling or wandering around outside of the pavilion. "Who's going to be out there with a tape measure?"
Apparently, Mayor Peter Micciche, who responded, "I do want to say that I did go physically measure and this does allow for people to move on the front side of the pavilion. I don't think it was designed to keep people from taking a step away and flipping their burgers."
The ordinance initially came at the request of the Parks and Recreation committee, which sought to protect several individual parks, but Micciche thought a blanket policy would better serve to shield children from these typically adult vices.
"When we initially looked at this it was because Soldotna Community Playground is such a hotspot for kids in the summertime," said Dana Cannava, the chair of the Parks and Rec committee. "So what we wanted to do was to make sure that place was a safe and appropriate environment for kids, and I think that this ordinance still covers that."
While the new law primarily seeks to address a public health concern, the smoking near playground structures is also a safety matter of sorts.
"The other issue with playground equipment is that the new flooring requirements are all wood chips that could be somewhat flammable," Micciche said. "And then cigarettes also damage the plastic components of the playground equipment."
Micciche added that signs will be posted around the restricted area to remind people of the appropriate distance.
"We're not exactly heavy-handed on the way we manage things," Micciche said of enforcing the ban. "And we find that often when there are rules, people follow them."
The law does not apply to parks without playground equipment.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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