City eyes proposal to ban dogs, smoking from downtown parks

City eyes proposal to ban dogs, smoking from downtown parks »Play Video
The new play area at Westlake Park opened in March. The playground was designed to provide kids living in the downtown core more access to healthy activities. (Photo courtesy Seattle Parks and Recreation).

SEATTLE - Cigarettes and dogs just don't belong on playgrounds and in public parks, period. That's what some local residents and business owners believe; and now they're asking the city to completely ban both from two downtown parks.

Several of these residents voiced their concerns during a meeting of the Board of Park Commissioners Thursday, claiming the city's current rules on smoking and dogs in public places don't go far enough to keep Westlake and Occidental Parks clean, safe and inviting.

"I have been trying for long time to make Occidental Park a much safer and cleaner place for all the new residents moving into Pioneer Square," said Charlie Royer, former Seattle mayor and current co-chair of The Alliance for Pioneer Square. "We have done a partial smoking ban, but it's just too hard to enforce."

Seattleites are currently prohibited from smoking within 25 feet of any play area, playground, beach or picnic area. But Royer said under the city's current  rules, residents and visitors remain skeptical of the downtown parks. That's where he thinks having a full smoking ban would help take care of the people he considers to be the biggest offenders. 

"These aren't homeless people or people that live in the Mission we are talking about," Royer said. "They are not the problem here. The problem is the young thugs smoking not only cigarettes who just turn people away from the park."

Recently, residents and business owners living and working near the two downtown parks sent letters and emails asking Seattle Parks and Recreation to consider a more thorough smoking and pet ban. Parks' Joelle Hammerstad said the issue really came to light after the new playground in Westlake Park opened in March.

"Now that we have a children's play area down there, it's creating a different use of the park that hasn't been there before," Hammerstad said. "We've been getting people complaining about smoke in the play area."

According to a recent study by the Downtown Seattle Association, there are 850 cities across the country that currently ban smoking in parks and support for these bans is growing. The study also found that smoking bans have helped reduce visible smoking in public areas as well as cigarette litter.

In conjunction with a smoking ban at both Westlake and Occidental parks, Parks has also heard from residents interested in banning dogs.

"There are concerns about dogs because there are a lot of dogs in the parks, pit bulls specifically," Hammerstad said. "Citizens feel they are making the parks unsafe and uncomfortable."

Under current city code, pets both on and off leash, are not allowed on athletic fields, beaches or at children's playgrounds.

The Board of Park Commissioners asked Parks to study the bans and come back with analysis and a possible proposal during its meeting on Sept. 26.

Hammerstad says the superintendent makes the final decision based on the board's recommendations.