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Portland bans smoking in parks, public plazas

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Portland bans smoking in parks, public plazas

PORTLAND — Smokers visiting city parks will soon have to light up elsewhere, after the City Council voted unanimously Monday to ban smoking in more than 50 city parks and public grounds.

The city code amendment applies to a long list of open spaces, including Baxter Woods, Congress Square, Deering Oaks Park, Monument Square, Payson Park, the Quarry Run and Valley Street dog parks, and the Eastern and Western promenades.

After passing the smoking ban by a 7-0 vote, the council also unanimously revised city policy on the use of tax increment financing.

The smoking ban goes into effect March 6. It will be publicized with posted signs and will require offenders to be warned before they are issued citations, which will carry a $50 fine.

The no-smoking policy has been the focus of work by the council's Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee, which proposed a similar smoking ban last September.

But that proposal was vague about defining spaces that would be affected, and included some confusing overlaps with state law on public smoking. So the council returned the proposal to the committee for further review.

On Monday, councilors had a look at the revised proposal.

"The purpose of this is not to punish smokers. The purpose is to protect non-smokers," Councilor Edward Suslovic, who chairs the committee, said.

Several speakers – and the language of the ordinance itself – cited the health dangers of second-hand smoke, especially to children. There are "reams of evidence" about its dangers, said Tina Pettingill, executive director of the Maine Public Health Association.

"(Second-hand smoke) is a toxin more deadly than asbestos, arsenic, lead and many other things we regulate closely," she said.

In response to questions from Councilor Kevin Donoghue, Suslovic admitted that the ban did nothing to prevent those dangers in other public spaces, including sidewalks and bus stops.

The goal, he said, was to create "simplicity and understandability" in the ban, so that the public could easily comply with it.

"It may be an imperfect solution, but it's the best we could come up with," Suslovic said.

But the ban did correct an imperfection in last fall's proposal by revising language that was redundant with existing laws, including a state ban on smoking in outdoor eating areas.

The committee also cleared up previous ambiguity about whether a ban would apply to Riverside Golf Course. Based on legal advice, the committee found that the course was already covered by a city law banning smoking near or on athletic fields, beaches and playgrounds.

While the council Monday was unanimous in its support of the revised proposal, some members of the audience expressed opposition.

State Street resident Kevin Casey called the ban a "poor solution to an addiction problem," and compared the dangers of second-hand smoke to those of food allergies. If the city outlaws public smoking because of dangers to others, he said, then certain foods should be banned in public places.

"Where do you draw the line?," he asked councilors.

TIF changes

TIF incentives subsidize development projects by drawing on future tax revenue increases anticipated from the project. The incentives have been the subject of heated discussion on the council and among the public, and the council's Housing and Community Development Committee has worked for six months to revise the policy.

Councilors appeared to be satisfied with the result, which represents a compromise between those who wanted to tightly limit the size of the tax breaks and those who wanted more flexibility to use TIFs to attract new development.

The new policy encourages the use of area-wide TIFs, which often subsidize infrastructure development in an entire neighborhood, rather than TIFs for specific projects.

The policy also caps the amount developers can receive from a TIF at 65 percent of the new tax value over a term of 20 years.

After the vote, Mayor Michael Brennan called the policy "a significant step forward."

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.