Edwin Weaver from Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley speaks in favor of the proposed ban on smoking in parks, public spaces and parking garages while Sister Janet Corcoran prepares to talk during the Santa Maria City Council meeting Tuesday night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Seven years after rejecting tobacco-free parks, the Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday blessed a ban on smoking in parks, public spaces and parking facilities. 

The City Council unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance for the smoking and tobacco products ban, which the Recreation and Parks Commission recommended adopting.

Councilwoman Terri Zuniga noted the lack of speakers opposing the smoking ban during Tuesday night’s meeting.

“I think that just shows the education that the community at large has had around this issue,” said Zuniga, who disclosed she is married to a lifelong smoker. “People understand the impact, the harm the exposure to smoke (has) on kids especially, but also adults.”

Councilman Jack Boysen, a reformed smoker, said he doesn’t believe enforcing the ban will burden the city. 

“I think this is a whole different generation that people don’t expect to have the right to smoke anymore as they did when we were young,” Boysen said.

“I agree with everything that’s been said tonight — people shouldn’t smoke, they shouldn’t get lung cancer and we certainly need to protect the children from that,” Mayor Alice Patino said..

Driving through Preisker Park on the weekend, Patino observed a car club gathering where several people were smoking. The sight prompted her to ask whether  the city should consider issuing a permit to allow smoking in reserved areas of parks much like they already do with alcohol. 

The smoking ban ordinance will returns to the council for a second reading and final approval in two weeks.

Adults and youths spoke Tuesday in favor of the ban, and applauded after the council’s vote.

“We should be able to go into a park and enjoy a park that has clean air and doesn’t have cigarette butts in it,” said Edwin Weaver from Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley.

Sister Janet Corcoran, a former recreation and parks commissioner, urged the council to approve the ban she has long lobbied city leaders to adopt.

Exposed to her dad’s and others’ secondhand smoke, she now has asthma and bronchitis, she told the council

“The Surgeon General asserts that there’s no safe level of exposure to smoke and that tobacco affects the organs of the body,” Corcoran said. “Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of  preventable death and disease in the U.S.

In 2009, the council rejected a complete ban and supported enforcement of the state law that prohibited smoking near playgrounds. 

“What a difference seven years makes,” City Manager Rick Haydon said after the vote Tuesday night.

Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada said the staff plans to undertake a multi-month educational effort before implementing the tobacco and smoking ban, likely sometime in the spring.

In addition to parks, the ban would include public spaces such as the area near the Santa Maria Public Library, City Hall courtyard and in city-owned parking facilities. 

Plans calls for complaint-driven enforcement likely involving city rangers. People violating the ban would be issued an administrative citation with a $100 fine although criminal citations also would be an option, Posada said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.