Council to review smoking-ban draft

Kati Jividen

The Ames City Council will review an ordinance at tonight’s meeting regarding the proposed ban on smoking in restaurants.

Ames City Attorney John Klaus was asked by city council members at their Sept. 12 meeting to draft an ordinance to ban smoking in public places.

The drafted ordinance includes several criteria that would “prohibit smoking in all food-service establishments except those that have more than 50 percent of gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages,” Klaus wrote in a letter to the council and Ames Mayor Ted Tedesco on Oct. 4.

“We’re making a decision tonight on how to proceed,” city councilwoman Sharon Wirth said. “We could do lots of things – delay it, change it, draft it again or forget it all.”

Since the September meeting, restaurant owners and managers and opponents of the ordinance have been meeting under the auspices of the Center for Creative Justice to encourage more discussion on the topic, city councilman Herman Quirmbach said. These meetings helped Klaus develop some of the ordinance’s criteria.

Wirth said she hopes tonight’s meeting will push the topic further into the process.

“I want to move on. I don’t want to deal with this for the next six months,” she said. “I think there’s good agreement among the council that we would like to get it wrapped up. We have a lot of things hanging.”

Wirth said most people are in favor of implementing some kind of smoking ban.

“There’s controversy in the details,” she said. “When would it start? Would it include all of the restaurants? Restaurants and bars? That will be the big source of debate tonight.”

Quirmbach, associate professor of economics, said there will be a lot of public debate regarding the ban at tonight’s meeting.

“There is an overwhelming support in this city to adopt a ban on restaurant smoking. It’s a public health argument and issue since secondhand smoke can do basically all the bad things that firsthand smoke can do,” he said.

Quirmbach said a fairly large block of support has emerged in the last couple of weeks for an ordinance that would ban smoking in all public places, including bars and bowling alleys. He said state law gives a city the right to regulate such an ordinance, but there are a few drawbacks.

“First of all is the potential for dragging it out for months or way into next year sometime,” Quirmbach said. “I expect if we try to broaden it to include the bars, it will slow [the process] down a bit since bar owners haven’t been involved in the process so far.”

Quirmbach said he doubts if such a ban would be as popular as the smoke-free dining ban.

“Again, we’d fall into a pitfall where, by taking a popular measure and loading things onto it that are less popular, we’ll have the whole thing capsize,” he said. “Most [restaurant] owners want a level playing field by including the bars. If they are serious about that, then they need to put in a written proposal and try to get the Chamber of Commerce to support it.”

After the discussion, the council will set a public-hearing date before the ordinance is put on the agenda for its three readings, Quirmbach said. At the end of the three readings, the council would vote whether or not to put the ordinance into effect beginning Jan. 5, 2001.

“Whether [the public hearing] happens Oct. 24 or not, I don’t know. It depends on what kind of ordinance we want to have the reading on,” he said. “If the direction we go is for a broadened ordinance, it would take longer because we would probably send the city attorney back to work.”

Quirmbach said he hopes the council will be able to establish a clear direction and time period to move forward at tonight’s meeting.

“I think we’re getting to the point where we can make up our minds and choose a direction,” he said.

The council also will hear a staff report about a study that named the Ames electric power plant as a source of dioxin pollution in Canada. This will follow the smoking ban discussion, Quirmbach said.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 515 Clark Ave.