Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


You can smoke 'em if you've got 'em - at least for a while longer - in city parks.

Baker City Councilors on Tuesday decided they want to hear more residents' opinions before taking any action to curtail smoking, and possibly use of all tobacco products, in city parks and recreation areas.

A few people spoke about the topic during Tuesday's meeting. Virtually all of them support the proposed ban.

Katie Lamb said she believes tourists would be happy about a smoking ban.

"First impressions are huge," she said.

Bobbie Danser said she opposes the proposed ban because smokers also "have rights."

Danser pointed out that people leave gum, candy wrappers, even "dog excrement" in public parks.

"Should we ban animals, food and drink?" Danser asked.

The issue of how the city would enforce a tobacco ban also was discussed.

"How are you going to enforce it?" Councilor Roger Coles said."There are lot of ordinances in this town not enforced."

Coles said he supports the concept of the ordinance but he has reservations about its effectiveness. For example, Coles said he's complained about people riding bicycles and skateboards on Main Street sidewalks for two years - an activity prohibited by an existing ordinance - but has seen no perceptible change.

"Call City Hall? They'll say it's not a priority," Coles said of the proposed tobacco ban. "I can't see police patrolling it."

Councilor Kim Mosier said she believes the planned warning signs, and polite requests from park users that people not smoke there, would be effective much of the time.

Enforcement would depend, she said, "on community support."

Councilor Clair Button suggested putting up sandwich boards in the parks to invite comments.

"This is a health issue," he said.

There is ample open space in most of the parks so "people who do smoke can enjoy themselves without impacting other people," Button said.

Mayor Richard Langrell concurred with Button about the need for more public participation.

He envisions the proposed ordinance being used by police much like the curfew, which is "to make sure (teens) aren't getting into trouble. ... It would be a good tool."

Councilor Mike Downing wondered whether the rules would only drive the smokers out into the neighborhoods next to the parks.

"I don't want to make trouble for neighbors," he said.

Torie Andrews, Baker County's Tobacco Prevention Education coordinator, told councilors there are 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke. A Stanford University study found that the health risks from secondhand smoke outdoors are comparable to the risks smoke poses to people who are inside a building, Andrews said.

The county has offered to pay for a large portion of the cost to post signs informing people about a tobacco ban: $1,600 of an estimated bill of up to $2,500.

Benjamin Foster, a city intern who authored the ordinance that would ban tobacco from parks, said the nation is changing its view of smoking. He pointed to making people wear seat belts while traveling in their autos being acceptable now to most people.

The smoke and discarded butts detract from the beauty of the city parks, Foster said. The butts, if not properly extinguished, increase "the possibility of starting fires," he said.

Exempting the ban from Quail Ridge Golf Course still is a possibility because it's not a place where many children could be found, Button said.

Keeping children away from the smoke and the butts to preserve their health - and keep them from taking up the habit - has been a reason often cited for enacting such a ban.

There are other issues to hash out as well, such as whether it should be a smoking ban or a tobacco ban. The latter would extend the ban to include smokeless tobacco.

The proposal would be given to council advisory groups to review, such as the Golf Board.

River access issue

The councilors told city staff it would be a good idea to tear down the fence between the Myrtle Street bridge and the double gates that lead into Wade Williams Park. Removing the fence would give floaters and swimmers better access along that portion of the Powder River.

The city will receive a grant from Oregon State Parks to improve access in and out of the river in that section. There would be rock steps added, for example.

Some of the councilors said they'd only be more comfortable deciding whether to temporarily close off a 200-foot section of Main Street south of Cliff Street, near the river, after touring the area.

"We need to see the whole picture," said Councilor Barbara Johnson.

That informal tour would happen some time before the councilors meet again on May 28.

The property owner at that location, Kathy Tressler, has been tangling with unruly people who travel to and from the river. They trespass across her property while making their way to and from the river at a spot not very far from a riverside section that will be highlighted as an access point.

"None of you would put up with that in your neighborhood," she said.

Tressler and her husband, Tom, could tolerate the youths during the first decade they lived there. She said the situation has become worse during the past couple of years, however.

On one occasion, at 2 a.m., the Tresslers were disturbed by a group of loud youths. Her husband went outside their home to investigate and found six young people drunk and naked.

"They were telling my husband to mind his own business," Tressler said.

People hang around in and around her carport and garage, often drinking or smoking marijuana, sometimes having sex or fighting. They steal items from her yard.

"I was afraid to leave my home," she said.

Someone even left a car there for a couple of hours once and blocked them in.

"Thank God there was no emergency," Tressler said.

The city doesn't want to vacate that section of Main Street because the public might need use of it in the future.

It might serve as a "connection to or continuation of Leo Adler Memorial Parkway," said Michelle Owen, city public works director.

Even if the street were closed, the Tresslers could continue using it as a private drive.

The couple also would have to obtain a $150 Facility Use Permit. That would allow them and others living at the residence access to property located off the closed right-of-way.

Allen Makinson, who lives on Dewey Avenue next to the river, said the closure likely wouldn't allow the Tresslers to stop foot traffic, only vehicles.

He also talked about Wade Williams itself, which is owned by the Baker Elks Lodge. He wondered how the Elks are able to allow the team sports and the camping in the park because the location isn't platted for those purposes.

In other business, the councilors:

andbull; Decided to help form a committee that would find permanent funding for the Mollie Atwater and Friends Spay/Neuter Fund. Members of the nonprofit's board talked about how the group serves the community.

Suzanne Fouty, the group's spokeswoman, approached the councilors after learning the sidewalk utility fee fund had amassed a surplus.

She thought some of the sidewalk money could be allocated for the spay/neuter fund. But city officials said that's not a legal use of the money. A separate ordinance for funding Mollie Atwater could occur, but some of the councilors wanted to know whether other communities are doing this.

Mollie Atwater focuses on reducing the numbers of homeless dogs and cats roaming the area through neutering and pet owner education.

andbull; Approved the second reading of the Sidewalk Utility Fee Ordinance, No. 3318. A separate ordinance, No. 3698, focuses on the rules for operating the sidewalk grant program. It also was approved with an increase in the grant allowance from $2.50 to $3.50 per foot, a substantial raise in the maximum award and a system to allow the city to approve grants faster.

andbull; Waived the mainline fees for wastewater service that Baker Little League would have to otherwise pay for service at the softball fields on 17th Street.

andbull; Accepted the final reading of the franchise agreement with LightSpeed Networks Inc.

andbull; Proclaimed May 14 through May 31 as Poppy Days and May 20 as Arbor Day.