Kenai council listens to feedback on proposed smoking ban

Posted: Sunday, February 09, 2003

In Kenai, a restaurant patron can still have a drink, an extra helping of onions and the greasiest side dish of their choice, but they may not be able to have a cigarette with their meal for much longer.

At its Wednesday meeting, the Kenai City Council listened to a majority of public comments supporting the enactment of a smoking ban in Kenai eating establishments.

When the topic of a smoking ban first came up at the council's last meeting, council members were split on the idea and decided to hold a public meeting to hear what their constituents and local restaurant owners thought about it.

The city has not drafted an actual ordinance yet and has been using Soldotna's smoking ban ordinance as a model for discussion. In Soldotna, smoking is prohibited in all eating establishments. It is allowed in bars and bar areas of restaurants as long as the bar section is enclosed and separately ventilated. Smoking also is allowed in eating establishments while they are used for private functions and in any patio area that is open to the sky.

On Wednesday, community members piled into the Kenai council chambers for the discussion. Nine people addressed the council about the issue and all but one supported a smoking ban.

"I appreciate the fact that the council brought this up," said Greg Daniels of Kenai. "I've been waiting for this for a long time. ... Smokers have a right to smoke. I don't have an argument with that at all, but I think all humans -- born and unborn -- have a right to breath."

Daniels rattled off information he'd researched about the health problems smoking can cause and said he hoped the council would pass an ordinance making eating establishments 100 percent smoke free. He compared having a nonsmoking section in a restaurant to having a nonchlorinated section in a swimming pool. Having smoking sections and using air filters isn't enough, since "smoke knows no boundaries," he said.

"It would be a really, really good thing for the community. And how often does the city council of Kenai get an opportunity like this to look so good?"

Tim Navarre of Kenai, who owns the local Arby's restaurants -- which already have a no-smoking policy, said he would be in favor of an ordinance that banned smoking in eating establishments but allowed it in bar sections of those establishments, as long as the bar was sectioned off with a doorway.

"I think it's a good place to start, a compromise," he said. "... I think you have to be careful not to infringe on the rights of the business person."

Brandii Ohlsen of Sterling, grants coordinator for the Tobacco Control Alliance, and Emily Nenon of Anchorage, Alaska advocacy manager for the American Cancer Society, both applauded the council for even discussing a smoking ban and offered their assistance in furthering a ban.

Brian Templeton of Kenai was the only person who spoke against a ban.

"I believe that's a right of the businesses to make up their mind of whether they're going to have smoking or nonsmoking in their restaurant," he said. "There has been no study that proves second-hand smoke hurts people. ... If you don't like what's on the TV, turn it off. If you know that's a smoking restaurant, don't go in."

Kenai Mayor John Williams said he went to many restaurants in town and spoke to the owners about a smoking ban.

"There were some concerns about the way the rule may be implemented," he said. "By and large, none of the restaurant owners seemed to have a problems with it. Some said they would even welcome it."

Williams singled out a few restaurant owners in the crowd. Al Garcia, Don Jose's manager, said he spoke to the chain's owner, Jose Remos of Homer, and said Remos told him he would go along with a ban if it were enacted.

"He says, 'You gotta do what you gotta do,'" Garcia said.

When asked, George Pitsilionis, owner of Paradisos restaurant, echoed those sentiments.

At the end of the discussion, council member Pat Porter suggested City Attorney Carey Graves work with restaurant owners to draft a smoking ban ordinance that would come back for discussion and possibly voting at future meetings. Williams and other council members said they wanted the draft ordinance to include plenty of lead time before it is enforced so owners wouldn't be burdened with doing renovations in a short period of time.

If an ordinance is passed, Williams said he hopes citizens will take an active role in enforcing it.

"The council is faced with a very serious budget situation this year," he said. "We can not afford to hire a cigarette officer to go around and enforce this. I hope citizens would take it upon themselves to police themselves."

In other action Wednesday, the council:

Voted down an ordinance that would have increased the purchasing limit without competitive bidding for construction or maintenance projects from $10,000 to $20,000. Council members Porter, Duane Bannock, Amy Jackman and Linda Swarner voted against it, while Williams and council members Joe Moore and Jim Bookey voted for it.

Passed an ordinance that accepted a $950,000 grant increase from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and appropriated matching funds from the city's water and sewer fund for work on Wellhouse No. 4, a new test well.

Passed an ordinance that changed the designation of day care centers from conditional uses to principal uses in general commercial, central commercial and light industrial zones, meaning day cares in these zones no longer need a conditional-use permit to operate.

Approved a resolution supporting the outer continental shelf oil and gas lease sales.

Vetoed a decision made by the Planning and Zoning Commission that approved the vacation of a 3-foot portion of the 33-foot access easement to accommodate an existing building in the Candlelight Drive area. Bannock voted against the veto, while all others voted for it.

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