Nevada City implements smoking ban
City says merchants want it; bar owner says it sends wrong message
Signs are posted on lampposts in downtown Nevada City and citations with fines of $100 have been issued as part of a new smoking ban now in effect within the downtown historic district.
An amended ordinance that extended no-smoking areas beyond parks and trails to include all municipal parking lots (including Alpha and Commercial Street), sidewalks and streets in Nevada City’s historic district went into effect on June 23 after winning unanimous approval from city council.
Meant to clean up streets of cigarette butt litter and provide healthier air quality for all, the ordinance gives police another tool to manage long-simmering behavior issues.
So far, city police and city management say they have received positive feedback and little public outcry to the ordinance.
On the street, local smokers and some bar owners are questioning the need for an ordinance that to them seems excessively strict and unfair.
Police Chief James Wickham, who came on board with the city in the spring, says an estimated 95 percent of the community supports the idea with a small minority of folks who feel their individual rights are being trampled on by authority figures.
“We have a few locals who aren’t happy with it and try to challenge us… It’s just a few who don’t like Big Brother watching over them,” Wickham said.
For smokers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a place to light up. Since 1995, when California lawmakers approved a statewide ban of smoking in enclosed areas such as workplaces and restaurants, a number of towns have adopted no-smoking policies of their own that set aside specific areas such as school campuses, apartment complexes and parks as smoke-free.
As of July 1, 2012, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, 81.1 percent of the U.S. population lives under a ban on smoking in “workplaces, and/or restaurants, and/or bars, by a state, commonwealth or local law” and 48.6 percent live under a ban covering all workplaces, restaurants and bars.
“I think the smoking ban is good for Nevada City and will be a common regulation in cities in California,” City Manager David Brennan said. “We have heard many more positive comments than negative. Of course, it depends on whether one is a smoker or not. I have only heard positive comments from business owners.”
Judi Weiner, owner of Judi’s of Nevada City women’s clothing store on the corner of Commercial and Pine streets and within eyeshot of the new boardwalk, believes a smoking ban is a great idea. She says she has seen positive results over the past several months since the police department started making changes to help alleviate loitering.
“We’re happy campers on Commercial Street,” she said.
Keith Marcher of Carson City, Nev., was sitting at the bar in Cooper’s on a recent afternoon drinking a light beer and watching a game on the screen behind the bar. A self-proclaimed “anti-smoker,” Marcher avoids establishments in Nevada where smoking is allowed because he finds it offensive. He likes the new Nevada City ordinance.
The decision to extend a 2010 smoking ban ordinance came as a result of numerous complaints about smokers in the downtown area, Brennan said.
“The smoke was going inside their stores, including marijuana smoke,” the city manager said.
Since its construction, the pilot boardwalk project has been a source of contention for merchants on Commercial Street who struggle with the street culture that routinely congregates there.
Smoking has long been an issue on Commercial Street, both on the boardwalk, sidewalks and stoops that line the popular gathering hub.
Besides protecting the public from second-hand smoke, the ordinance serves as a tool for law enforcement – along with the new foot patrol program – to help manage ongoing tensions between merchants and the lively loitering crowds.
“It’s definitely helped… It allows us to do our job the way the community wants us to do it,” Wickham said.
Jamison Simmons, a local musician and smoker, says the only thing the no-smoking ordinance has done is remove public ashtrays, thus creating an even bigger problem with cigarette butt litter on the streets, in the gutter and in planter boxes.
Another man named Barney, a Nevada City resident and 40-year smoker, said he would like to see the ordinance posted on city hall so that he and others can easily read it.
He says the changes being made by the new police chief are “rigorous” and “confining” and he questions the need to even police smoking when so many other factors contribute to air-quality conditions from wildfire smoke to pollen dust and vehicle exhaust.
“What’s next prohibition? It just seems to be a bit steep. There’s a curve and then there’s a cliff,” he said.
Wickham admits he doesn’t want his department to become the smoking police.
Instead gentle verbal reminders made by foot patrol police seem to be working adequately, with only a few smokers putting up a “go ahead, cite me” attitude, he said.
For those who put up a fight, first-time infractions will result in a $100 fine.
On Commercial Street, the ordinance has driven some smokers from the public sidewalk to the smoking patio at Cooper’s where loitering has become an issue when smokers hang out, sip water and rarely spend a dime.
Most bars in town have a patio or backdoor outside smoking area with some saying the ordinance has little effect on them. Designated outdoor smoking areas and patios on private properties, such as bars, are not impacted by the ban.
The new law has become a downer for at least one longtime bar owner.
Mine Shaft Saloon owner Bryce Lee is disappointed with the decision that he says is impacting tourism to the area in a negative way. Lee, who has owned the landmark bar since 1976, says in all that time Nevada City has never had a business-friendly city council.
“I am totally against the ordinance, Lee said. “It does have an effect on my business, and I hear the biggest complaints from the people (who come) from out of town that want to see and enjoy our town with shopping and just perusing the area.
“What a shame to spend thousands of dollars and years trying to get people to come here and then have a reactive city council and others that do all they can do to discourage them from ever returning. And if that isn’t bad enough, they tell their friends and they don’t come here at all.”
In an age where smoking has become increasingly scrutinized from a public health perspective, Wickham believes the new-smoke free atmosphere downtown will benefit the city, helping to create a healthier and friendly destination for visitors.
“This is kind of a uniqueness that allows Nevada City to shine in that sense,” he said.
Contact freelance reporter Laura Brown at 401-4877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.