DeKALB – Smokers wishing to light up (or vape) on DeKalb Park District property still may have a chance, since the Park Board walked back an item Thursday that could ban smoking and vaping on all park property, except golf courses.
Up for discussion only, not a vote, the potential smoking ban was waved down by the majority of commissioners present –Commissioner Patricia Perkins was absent – on the basis that it would be difficult to enforce. The board also expressed desire to revisit current policies that simply may not be properly regulated.
Commissioner Keith Nyquist, who teaches business communication at Northern Illinois University’s Department of Management, said when NIU instituted its all-campus smoking ban, smokers “followed the rules” by walking across the street from campus and standing in people’s driveways to smoke.
“If there’s a wedding or something in Hopkins Park, those people will have to stand on a sidewalk on Sycamore Road to be in compliance with our ordinance.” Nyquist said. “I can see that being problematic in a number of ways. I lost both my parents to smoking, so I’m opposed to it personally, but I think the way the policy is is fine with me.”
Current district policy prohibits smoking inside district buildings, and within 50 feet of athletic fields, bleachers, playgrounds, dog parks and where park programs or special events are taking place, among others, said district executive director Amy Doll.
“We recognize that enforcement of this ordinance would be difficult,” Doll said. “But it wouldn’t be any more difficult than several ordinances that we have that prohibit behaviors like off-leash dogs or [having] metal detectors.”
Commissioner Dag Grada wondered why golf courses would be exempt from the ban.
“Are we doing it for health? Because it’s a wide-open space? Or because it might impact our income stream and turn people away?” Grada said. “If it’s a health thing, fine, I can support that. But when money becomes involved, and we’re going to make an exception, I don’t think that’s accurate.”
Commissioner and board President Phil Young was the sole voice in favor of the ban from the beginning and cited concerns for children and people with respiratory problems.
“The idea is this is public property for everyone,” Young said. “If you have 20 people there and only two people want to smoke, who has the right? We had this issue at the dog park, so we banned it completely, and that took care of the problem.”
Young suggested, if nothing else, district staff should conduct a general review of current smoking policies and gather data on ways those policies are being communicated to the public.
The smoking discussion could be brought up again at a future board meeting.