The Soldotna City Council wants to give residents plenty of time to clear the air on a proposed smoking ban for restaurants within the city.
The council voted Wednesday to take the unusual step of scheduling three public hearings on Ordinance 766 during the next two months. Hearings are set to be held at the regularly scheduled meetings of Sept. 11, 25 and Oct. 9.
Council member Lisa Parker introduced the provision calling for the three public hearings after the council discussed the fact that the public would need ample time to debate the measure.
"It's important for us to get as much input from the community as we can," said council member Sharon Moock, who was responsible for bringing the ordinance to the council.
In fact, Wednesday's meeting featured a fair amount of public and council comment, though the ordinance hasn't even been introduced yet.
Patti Truesdell, director of the Tobacco Alliance of the Peninsula, told the council she was solidly behind the smoking ban, though she cautioned the council that moving too fast on the ban could present legal troubles in the future. She said she'd heard from people in Anchorage -- people who helped craft a similar ordinance there -- who thought the council should solicit more public support.
"Anchorage thinks we're moving too quickly," Truesdell told the council.
However, Truesdell made it clear that she strongly favors banning smoking in eating establishments.
"I really do support what you are doing," she said.
However, the council also heard from several members of the audience, many of them students, who think the issue is more about personal freedom and should be up to individual restaurant owners.
One restaurant owner has already stated she thinks the ban is a bad idea.
Mykel's restaurant owner Alice Paulson said Friday that she thinks the city should not be responsible for regulating what goes on inside Soldotna restaurants.
"I'm not against non-smoking restaurants," she said. "I just think it should be done based on customer demand."
Mykel's does not allow smoking in the restaurant, but does have a separate lounge where smoking is allowed. If the ordinance is passed, she would either have to make the lounge non-smoking or install a barrier between the lounge and restaurant. She said people should have the right to choose to eat at a restaurant that allows smoking.
"People will patronize businesses that are to their liking," she said.
However, City Manager Tom Boedeker said the problem with voluntary enforcement is restaurants fear they'll lose business if they don't allow smoking and the restaurant next door does.
"Unless everybody had the same rules, they have a problem doing that," he told the council.
If passed, the ordinance would ban smoking in any indoor establishment that serves food within the city limits.
Bars would be exempt, provided they have a separate ventilation system from any attached restaurant.
The city council will begin public hearings on the smoking ban at its Sept. 11 meeting. Hearings are also scheduled for Sept. 25 and Oct. 9. Council meetings are held every second Wednesday at City Hall at 7:30 p.m.
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