It was a summer Tuesday not unlike most of the summer Tuesdays in the Healdsburg Plaza last year. Reggae band Sol Horizon worked the gazebo stage, friends and families gathered on the grounds, and everyone seemed to enjoy the good weather and good vibes of the post-pandemic party.
Make that almost everyone. Whatever the reason—the ganja-friendly music, the rambunctious crowd—the smoke seemed thicker than usual that evening, and Louis Jordan for one was not enjoying himself.
In fact, the financial consultant and local winemaker was so irritated by the smoke that less than a week later he attended the Healdsburg City Council meeting and, during the open public comment period, asked the city to expand the non-smoking areas to include the sidewalks surrounding the Plaza.
“At this week’s Tuesday in the Park, there was extensive cigar and some pot smoking,” Jordan told the council. “As we have done for the last decade-plus, our group (of a dozen Healdsburg residents) was seated in the Plaza across from The Matheson. Cigars were being smoked (repeatedly) by a group of at least four to five individuals. The smoke was acrid, very offensive and potentially health impacting for many of us trying to enjoy the music.”
His complaint was noted by Councilmember David Hagele, who at the end of that Aug. 1 meeting recommended that city staff “come back with something we can chew on” for revised smoking areas as a “quicker step versus coming back to discuss what we want.”
City Manager Jeff Kay took the initiative to direct staff to review the relevant chapter of the Healdsburg Municipal Code to see what changes might be necessary “to making special events entirely smoke-free,” according to the staff presentation that accompanied the item in this week’s City Council meeting agenda.
Matt Milde, recreation supervisor for the community services department, oversaw the necessary revisions of Chapter 8.24 concerning smoking in public places, and with the city attorney’s staff fashioned a series of tweaks and clarifications to the municipal code that would include prohibiting smoking in public recreation areas, including adjacent sidewalks and parking lots.
“Changes were based upon Council’s comments at their Monday, August 1, 2022 meeting, consultation with the Police Department and legal counsel, and input received at the Wednesday, December 14, 2022 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting,” he said in an email.
“While I cannot speak to the speed of this adjustment, I feel we captured the essence of Council/Commission suggestions, and adding this on Consent still allowed Council to pull the item for discussion had there been any questions/concerns with the suggested adjustments,” Milde continued.
The city’s effort was roughly contemporary with an Oct. 22, 2022 request from Milestone Events Groups to make the entire Villa Chanticleer site smoke-free, both inside and outside the facility, including all parking areas. “We feel this will enhance the relationship with our neighbors as well as cut down on fire danger,” wrote Leilani Martin of Milestone.
Taken together, these changes would give Healdsburg one of the most comprehensive public smoking ordinances in the county. Some of the specifics include: defining “Public Recreation Areas” to include Plaza sidewalks and the Rec Park parking lot, clarifying that a special event’s entire permitted space is smoke-free and prohibiting smoking in all public spaces within 20 feet of a public recreation area.
The motivation was cited as “environmental stewardship,” due to the recognized dangers of secondhand smoke.
City Manager Kay agreed that it was “an unusually direct path from council request to legislative action,” and explained why. “We interpreted the request as being straightforward and noncontroversial, and we want to make sure we had the policy update in place before the start of the 2023 concert series.”
Following the meeting, Jordan said, “I am heartened and very impressed with Vice Mayor Dave Hagele’s embracing of this concern and in collaboration with the previous and current Council members taking rapid action on addressing this issue. This action will improve health outcomes for Healdsburg residents, guests and visitors and enable all of us to better enjoy Tuesday in the Park and other events in our city.”