Commentary: Whom Does a Parking Lot Smoking Ban Target? The Homeless

Photo by Luka Malic on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – There is a consent item on the agenda tonight that would ban smoke in certain Davis Public Parking Lots—E Street Plaza, North F Street, South G Street, and the North G St lots.

At the current time, the city notes that the city-owned parking garages are currently covered by the smoking ordinance, but the lots are not.

According to the staff report, “The City has received numerous complaints regarding people smoking in the parking lots because they are not currently regulated. And, there are routinely people sitting in lawn chairs in the E Street Plaza Parking Lot smoking because smoking is banned in the Plaza and in the eating areas surrounding the Plaza.

“People also routinely smoke in the G Street parking lots because they are immediately adjacent to restaurant/bars that cater to a late-night crowd.”

Staff notes, “The detrimental effects of smoking are well-documented, as are the hazards posed by secondhand smoke. The United States Surgeon General, the California Legislature and the California Health and Safety Code find that tobacco smoke is a hazard to the health of the general public and involuntary smoking is a cause of disease, including lung cancer, in healthy nonsmokers.”

While I understand that having adjacent smokers is a nuisance, even outside, I would suggest that at the very least the city does some more research here.

Most of the people that I see smoking in downtown lots are homeless people.  So are we passing an ordinance that disproportionately targets people who are unhoused and have limited locations at this point to smoke?

I have no problem with the notion of prohibiting smoking inside public buildings—those ordinances are by now 30 years old in most places.  Davis has some of the more restrictive laws I have seen, prohibiting smoking in a host of outdoor locations as well, including in the E Street Plaza and near entrances and exits to enclosed public areas.

But when we start prohibiting smoking in the middle of a parking lot, we are potentially impacting homeless people disproportionately.

At the very least, the city council ought to ask staff for more information and look into the impact on the unhoused community.

As one person noted to me, “We criminalize homelessness in 1000 small ways, while doing little to solve the actual problem.”

Instead of another smoking ordinance, I would prefer to see us determine who is smoking in the parking lots and then figure out ways to address our unhoused populations.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ron Glick

    Even if  its not about the homeless its nanny state nonsense. Why does the city need  to protect people from themselves? Its not like there is a second hand smoke issue outside. If they do this smoking will still occur only in the alleys and on the sidewalks and street corners. Instead of people moving to the least intrusive spaces to smoke they are going to smoke in more obvious places like the now closed G St. or in the parks. Then what? Do we ban smoking everywhere? Smoking whackamole  is a waste of everyone’s time.

  2. Walter Shwe

    Will the next proposed smoking ordinance include the entire outdoor Downtown area? Throughout my entire adult life, I have known many mental health consumers that smoke to self-medicate themselves. Many psychiatric medications either have limited effects or virtually none at all despite the claims of the pharmaceutical industry.

  3. Don Shor

    Making it harder for people to smoke increases the likelihood that they will quit. The benefits of reducing secondhand smoke are obvious and proven.  Reducing visible smoking likely reduces smoking initiation, which is more important in the long run. The goal is to denormalize smoking behavior and make it very difficult to smoke regularly. It doesn’t matter whether the people smoking are housed or unhoused; there are clear public health issues involved.

  4. Keith Olsen

    Personally I could care less whether the homeless can smoke in a parking lot or not.   This is the typical Vanguard response of citing some group that might be adversely affected by everything you can think of.

    That said, I agree with Ron Glick that this is just more nanny state nonsense coming from the People’s Republic of Davis.

  5. Tim Keller

    Im all for this.

    What is not mentioned is that the people smoking are often smoking canabis.

    Its not like there is a second hand smoke issue outside.

    When its canabis smoke and my kids are anywhere NEAR… you had better believe there is a second hand smoke issue.

    Twice this last summer when my weekend bike ride with my kids ended at sweet and shavery in the E street plaza, we couldn’t sit outside and enjoy our icecream because of significant amounts of canabis / vape smoke drifting down from the end of the lot where armadillo music is.

    Im all for letting people injure themselves if they want to, but nobody has a right to make my kids breathe in anything, or chase us out of a public place because THEY want to partake.

    This is entirely reasonable.

    Note:  in none of the cases where this has happened to me were the perpetrators homeless.

    1. Ron Glick

      You hang out in parking lots with your kids? Your kids ever actually get exposed or you smelled it and were displeased? Weed is legal now and it stinks worse than ever. I get it I didn’t like it around my kid either but an anti-smoking ordinance in parking lots isn’t really about protecting kids. Its about criminalizing behavior we don’t like. We shouldn’t be making otherwise decent people into scofflaws  because they want to step out of a bar in Davis and have a smoke.

  6. Sharla Cheney

    It’s OK to make some rules guiding acceptable behavior.  You imply that sitting in lawn chairs in downtown parking lots and smoking all day is something that is a unique element of homelessness, so we should tolerate it.  It is my guess that there are other behavioral issues going on that are problematic, but smoking is the easiest to address.  I think this is OK.

  7. Keith Olsen

    I’m against this parking lot smoking ban because it’s way too much of a nanny state overreach.  But why should Davisites be worried about how this might affect a few hundred homeless people’s smoking habits when the city and UCD have over 100,000 residents?

        1. David Greenwald

          You think housing first doesn’t apply to smoking too? Treating people’s addictions is fine, but what are you proposing to do, fine a bunch of homeless people for smoking in the parking lot? Arrest them?

        2. Keith Olsen

          Where did I say that?  I thought this article was about a possible city enforcement of banning smoking in some designated parking lots.  How did you stretch it to that?

        3. Keith Olsen

           fine a bunch of homeless people for smoking in the parking lot? Arrest them?

          The law would apply to everyone, not just the homeless.  So you apply the laws to the homeless the same you would do to the rest of the 100,000 residents.  What are trying to isolate it on the homeless?

  8. Ron Oertel

    Maybe this was what Walter was getting at about empathy.

    Not sure if that was Walter’s point here, but it seems to me that the “homeless” cause more than their share of fires (probably via smoking, as one cause) – regardless of where they are.

    How about some “empathy” toward those impacted by THAT?  Which sometimes includes other homeless people, as well.

    And in reference to Tim’s point (and David’s response), does anyone believe that there’d be any “differentiation” between marijuana vs. tobacco usage?

    Granted, they probably wouldn’t cause fires in parking lots.

    Is smoking allowed in shelters (or other homeless/residential facilities)?

    Also, how are they able to afford cigarettes, these days?  Aren’t they pretty expensive at this point?

    The issue reminds me of the article I saw in SF Gate today, as well. That is, how does behavior/choices impact others – who are then “victimized” by those choices?

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