Is downtown Glenwood tobacco ban all smoke?
A local ordinance that received widespread attention when it passed hasn’t been rigidly enforced in Glenwood Springs recently.
Between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., smoking any kind of tobacco product is prohibited in downtown Glenwood Springs. But it’s evident that the ordinance is neither observed nor enforced, according to Steve Davis, Glenwood Springs City Council representative for Ward 1 and owner of several downtown properties.
“The reality is, there are people smoking under the bridge, outside the bars, all day long. To my knowledge, there is little or no enforcement of [the ordinance],” Davis said.
Glenwood Springs Police Department statistics for 2018 show that enforcement of the downtown smoking ban dropped considerably last year — from 38 citations in all of 2017 to just nine in 2018; a 76 percent decline.
Davis believes the police are hesitant to enforce the ordinance because of the high fine — up to $200 for the first offense, $300 for the second and $500 for the third violation in a single calendar year.
The ordinance, passed in 2016, was intended to keep the downtown core more family-friendly, and reduce the amount of discarded butts on the pavement.
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said the main reason for the lower enforcement rate was a staffing shortage.
short-handed police FORCE
“We had severe staffing shortage last year. We were running six officers short pretty much the whole year,” Wilson said. The department is better staffed now, he said, but is still short three patrol officers.
It’s not just the smoking ordinance that saw a lack of enforcement. By the end of November 2018, GSPD officers had issued 1,031 traffic citations, half the number of the previous year. From January to November 2017, cops had issued 2,113 traffic tickets.
“A lot of categories suffered, as far as enforcement goes, especially the proactive stuff” during the staff shortage, Wilson said.
The officers who do contact daytime smokers often give warnings and try not to hand out tickets until they are certain the person caught violating the ordinance is aware of the local law, Wilson said.
“It’s a very different and very localized kind of a law,” Wilson said, as compared to more universal laws like having open containers of alcohol on the street. Marijuana, though legal, is also not allowed to be smoked in public.
mostly locals cited
In the first full year of the smoking ban, the 38 people who received citations were locals or frequent visitors who were issued warnings but didn’t believe cops would actually write a ticket, Wilson said.
“An awful lot of people we come across now who are violating that ordinance tend to be from out of town, and haven’t noticed any signage,” Wilson said.
During the construction of the Grand Avenue Bridge and pedestrian crossing, a lot of the signage was taken down or moved, Wilson said, and much of it has not been replaced.
Wilson said he hopes to present a plan to the city in the next several months to improve signage warning about the smoking ban in the downtown core before the summer months.
“It’s always going to be something difficult to enforce well,” he said. “But I think the intent of it is extremely important, and a very good cause in trying to create the healthiest and most welcoming environment downtown.”
Out-of-town visitors may not be aware of the prohibition, and locals who are aware of the smoking restrictions may smoke during daylight hours downtown anyway.
“The locals certainly know there’s an ordinance against it, but it doesn’t phase them because it’s not enforced,” Davis said.
Davis favors lowering the fine for the first violation so officers don’t worry so much about handing out tickets.
Many businesses and employees who work downtown deal with the nuisance of cigarette smoke during the daytime hours, and have to clean up cigarette butts from alleyways.
Erin Zalinski, Glenwood Springs resident and co-owner of Treadz and Toad&Co on Grand Avenue, agreed that cleaning up after smokers is a nuisance. But in drier years, she has feared the unintended consequences of pushing smokers outside the town.
“I’d rather have smoking in my alley than on the mountainside,” Zalinski said.
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The city of Glenwood Springs has proposed investing $5.76 million for street improvements in the 2020 budget.