Government

Days could be numbered for smoking and drinking in Cedar Rapids parks

City Council set to discuss recommendation from Greene Square working group

(File photo) Cedar Rapids Police officers talk to people in Greene Square in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, May. 15, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) Cedar Rapids Police officers talk to people in Greene Square in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, May. 15, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Days could be numbered for smoking and drinking in Cedar Rapids parks, including Greene Square.

As it stands, no permit is required to possess and consume beer in containers of up to a quart in 70 of Cedar Rapids’ 97 parks. This includes Greene Square, which is in the heart of the city near the downtown public library and near services for populations dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues.

A working group of city and civic leaders seeking to calm sometimes rowdy behavior in Greene Square recommended a tobacco and alcohol ban this spring, among other ideas.

The Cedar Rapids City Council plans to discuss such a ban in city parks when it meets for a special session at 4 p.m., Tuesday at City Hall, 101 First St. SE. The council will hold its regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. at the same location.

The agenda for the special session has just two items to “discuss and possibly act upon.”

This includes the ban and also Linn County’s request for funding to support a position carrying forward recommendations of the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities, or SET, Task Force — an effort to study and address systemic issues tied to youth gun violence in the area.

County supervisors requested financial help in February, but council members have struggled to find consensus with some supporting the request for $100,000 and others saying the money could be better spent.

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“As you know, the county’s proposal relating to the SET task force recommendations was made some time ago, and the tobacco-free/alcohol free parks issue came up earlier this month, so it makes sense to give council some time to discuss these matters,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said in an email. “The hope is we will be in a position to give staff some direction on these issues so we can, at a future council meeting, take more formal action on them.”

Attempts to ban smoking in Cedar Rapids parks have fallen flat in the past.

In 2015, the city’s Parks, Waterways and Recreation Commission supported a ban of tobacco, nicotine and electronic vaporizers at city parks, trails and recreational venues, including the city’s four golf courses, but the push fizzled shortly thereafter.

A group of concerned citizens seeking to ban nicotine in parks staged an awareness event at Daniels Park, 940 Oakland Rd. NE, last year but that, too, went nowhere.

Don Clow, secretary of the city’s commission, said members have not discussed bans recently, but he is following the discussion as well as issues in Greene Square.

“The obvious exception is permits, but small parks where people come for business and it’s not a destination area park, like Ellis and Bever where people come for picnics, I don’t think my opinion is all that important, but I am open to a conversation about banning alcohol in small pocket parks.”

City Council member Dale Todd, who was part of the Greene Square working group, said he would like to see the council pass a ban on smoking and drinking in Greene Square, other than special events where alcohol can be allowed through permits.

He pointed to health issues connected to smoking and drinking, and noted alcohol more than smoking may play a small role in some of the disturbances seen in Greene Square.

“Our parks are family friendly and we are trying to promote the health benefits of being in an open space,” Todd said. A ban “seems obvious to me.”

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Todd also supports the supervisors’ request for SET task force money, saying he hopes the council can come to an agreement. Advocates for the plan have been calling for months for the council to discuss the matter in public; this will be the first time that discussion gets held.

Council member Susie Weinacht, who is a liaison to the parks commission and is chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety and Youth Services Committee, said with respect to the ban she’s “interested in data, information, and how would the city enforce such an ordinance,” and on the county proposal she is “always listening for ways to work together across all branches of government.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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