‘I just don’t want them to smoke around children in our parks,’ East Dallas neighbors fight city hall for years

The Dallas Parks and Recreation Board has passed a ban on smoking in city-owned parks with a $200 fine if violated. Dallas-owned golf courses and private events at Dallas facilities like the Arboretum will still allow smoking. (photo by Rasy Ran)
The Dallas Parks and Recreation Board has passed a ban on smoking in city-owned parks with a $200 fine if violated. Dallas-owned golf courses and private events at Dallas facilities like the Arboretum will still allow smoking. (photo by Rasy Ran)

Smoke signals: After years of behind the scenes work, smoking ban takes center stage

Lighting up at a city park may soon be illegal. City Council is expected to vote on a citywide smoking ban ordinance this month, the culmination of three years of political negotiations led by two East Dallas Park and Recreation Board members.

For Jesse Moreno, Jr. and Paul Sims, it was a no-brainer: The negative health effects caused by secondhand smoke are counterintuitive to Dallas’ green spaces. Children and animals, especially, shouldn’t be subject to harmful adult choices, they say.

Other park board members, however, thought a ban could potentially hurt businesses, limit economic opportunities and diminish personal freedoms.

“My personal opinion is, I don’t care if people smoke,” Sims says. “I just don’t want them to smoke around children in our parks.”

Dallas parks extend beyond the more well-known neighborhood amenities with playgrounds, pavilions and walking trails. Golf courses, shooting ranges and even the site of the State Fair of Texas also are part of Dallas’ park system.

And those more commercial parks, particularly the Elm Fork Shooting Range, were the sticking points that mired the smoking ban ordinance in a years-long political stalemate.

Moreno believes the economic argument is “bogus.” The city’s restaurant smoking ban took effect in 2003, and “restaurants continue to open every day in Dallas.”

“Every other large metropolitan area, not only in the region, but across the United States … is being proactive and pursuing smoking bans,” Moreno says. He points specifically to Houston’s citywide ordinance, which he and Sims mirrored in their original proposal, and notes that Houston has reported zero economic impact.

The pair couldn’t convince their colleagues on the park board, however. Earlier this summer, they reached a compromise — a ban that would include exceptions for city-owned golf courses, shooting ranges and partner sites like Fair Park and the Dallas Arboretum (which, incidentally, already enforces a non-smoking policy in the gardens).

“I don’t think anyone loved it, but everyone accepted it,” Sims says of the compromise.

Park board members are appointed by City Council, who tend to choose “like-minded people,” says Moreno, the appointee of District 2 Councilman Adam Medrano, who represents parts of Old East Dallas. So it’s fitting that the councilman who appointed Sims, Philip Kingston, whose District 14 includes the M Streets and Lower Greenville, overruled what he calls a “watered down” ordinance.

Kingston has a reputation for eschewing businesses’ complaints in favor of what he believes is best for citizens. He’s one of the councilmen on the city’s Quality of Life Committee, and at August’s meeting, where the park board’s recommendation was under review, Kingston threw out the exemptions with the committee’s unanimous approval.

“I understand the arguments being made, but I just don’t care,” Kingston says, noting his surprise that park board members are “less progressive” than Council. “Doesn’t it come with the job that the park board is there to promote the healthy enjoyment of our outdoors?”

If the ban passes, it will affect around 400 parks and more than 100 miles of trails. Someone found violating the ban could be fined up to $200.

Moreno doesn’t think it will come to that.

“When the smoking ban was proposed for restaurants, people said it was a ‘horrible idea, crazy — how is City Council going to
enforce it?’ ”

Moreno says he doesn’t know of a single citation that has been issued to a restaurant guest in the smoking ban’s 13-year history, and “we go to parks for the healthy lifestyle,” so transferring the same expectation to Dallas’ green spaces should be, by comparison, a walk in the park.


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