On Feb. 11, the Parks Board of Commissioners voted to allow smoking in certain areas of city parks. Then, in a memo made public on Feb. 17, Parks Superintendent Timothy Gallagher ruled to overturn the board decision and ban smoking entirely in Seattle parks. A big pubic uproar followed, with some people calling for his resignation.
On Feb. 18, the following day, Gallagher reversed his decision, declaring it was fine to smoke, chew or use other tobacco products in parks, but only 25 feet from other patrons. The new smoking rules go into effect April 1 -- as do those that are disproportionately aimed at homeless park users.
For the first time, the Seattle Parks Department proposed a Code of Conduct, a brand new document with the goal of bringing all the different parks rules -- some from the Seattle Municipal Codes, some from the Revised Code of Washington, some from Parks policies and procedures -- together in a unified document with a clear list of punishments for each infraction. Eighty percent of the recently approved Code are rules already in place.
A number of new rules in the Code include bans on leaving personal items unattended, "conduct that unreasonably deprives others of their use or enjoyment of the park," blocking walkways and improper use of restrooms, which could target people taking sponge baths in bathroom sinks. The original draft language included bans on using a bathroom of the "opposite sex" and spitting, but these didn't make the final approved code.
Eric Friedli, the Parks manager of policy and business analysis, took the lead in presenting the code to the Parks Board of Commissioners, a citizen advisory board, in a Jan. 14 draft document. The board quickly urged removal of the spitting ban, which was widely criticized, and the opposite sex bathroom use rule, which would have been viewed as problematic for and even discriminatory against transgendered people.
The board then held a public hearing on Jan. 28 in City Council chambers, having invited prior public input by phone and email. At the hearing, there were many speakers who decried what they saw as an attempt to "criminalize poverty" and demanded all rules aimed at homeless people be removed from the Code. No citizen at the public hearing defended these rules.
During the hearing, Parks Commissioner Nick Adams requested clarification on the unattended personal items rule. "So, basically, there is no penalty for leaving stuff in a park?" he asked.
"No," said Friedli, adding that Parks would hold items in a Lost and Found for 30 days and return the items without penalty. Yet a penalty of sorts would still exist: exclusion from the parks for up to 30 days for the person who leaves bags unattended.
The code does not apply to sweeps by the city or Seattle Police, according to Parks Spokesperson Dewey Potter. "The underlying message is, 'Keep your stuff with you,'" said Potter.
The board was split on whether to remove the personal items ban, and Gallagher, calling it a "safety, aesthetic and sanitary issue" in a recent news release, decided to keep it..
The board had initially recommended a more relaxed smoking rule that banned smoking within 25 feet from other park patrons, play areas, beaches or playgrounds. However, because the code is an administrative policy, Gallagher had the ability to alter the board's decision.
On Feb. 17, the day the press release announcing Gallagher's decision to ban smoking was made public, he was on vacation and unavailable for comment. Yet a second press release, issued on Feb 18, revised his earlier decision. That revision imposed a 25-foot ban on smoking near others in parks, he noted his reversal was "based on input from the public that followed my initial decision." Articles by the Seattle Times and West Seattle Blog received hundreds of angry comments aimed at Gallagher. The new April 1 ban will be more strict than current rules.