Butt'ing in

Assemblyman Sanford says it's time to address consequences of last year's smoking ban

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2009

Juneau Assemblyman Merrill Sanford says it's time to address the unruly cliques of smokers in the streets at all hours, cigarette litter and other downtown nuisances stoked by a city smoking ban enacted last year.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Sanford said the problems have grown steadily worse since the Assembly's ban forced bar patrons outside to smoke and that the unpleasant atmosphere is beginning to turn people away from other downtown shops. He acknowledged the Assembly's hand in creating the problems and asked for possible solutions during an Assembly meeting Monday.

Besides private homes, the ban covers almost all indoor spaces in Juneau plus a 10-foot radius outside open windows, doors and ventilation intakes. Despite the latter restriction, downtown smokers often huddle under street awnings directly in front shops' doors.

City Manager Rod Swope didn't have any immediate recommendations and said the city is doing the best it can with the manpower it has. He said before the ban took effect, the city streets superintendent put cigarette receptacles out and asked businesses if they would help with the clean up.

"We got a resounding, 'Hell no. You helped create the problem, you figure it out,'" Swope said.

Sanford had a similar read of businesses' attitudes.

"Some, quite frankly, are (ticked) off at us," Sanford said.

Several bar owners opposed the ban, fearing it would drive away business. Anecdotally, some bars reported that to be the case, though liquor tax revenue on the whole actually increased after the ban went into effect, city Director of Finance Craig Duncan has said, either because of or in spite of the new rule.

Financial impact aside, limited staffing levels in the winter means cleaning up cigarette butts and policing lesser violations of city codes are not high priorities, Swope said. The city could hire more help, Swope offered, though gloomy budget forecasts make it an unlikely option.

The Assembly is expected to continue discussion of Sanford's concerns at its Committee of the Whole meeting at 5 p.m. Monday in the City Hall Assembly chambers.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.

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