New Smoking Rule Stirs Ire at Assembly

Sentinel Staff Writer
    The Assembly voted 5-2 Tuesday night to defer action on a proposal to amend the local ordinance banning smoking in public places, and sent it to the Health Needs and Human Services Commission for a recommendation.
    The proposal would state that bars and clubs that allow smoking may not have children under age 18 on their premises for special events, even if smoking is prohibited during the special event.
    The ordinance sailed through first reading with no public comments two weeks ago, but drew fire Tuesday night from a number of Sitkans who argued the law should not be changed unless a change is approved by a public vote.
    The Assembly voted 5-2 to send the ordinance to the city’s newly reactivated Health Needs Commission for a recommendation. Phyllis Hackett and Mayor Mim McConnell voted against.
    The issue was brought to the Assembly’s attention as the result of a Christmas party for children at the American Legion Post 13. The private club allows smoking, but prohibited it during the children’s party.
    Those who testified Tuesday night said the party was a huge success, with just under 80 kids attending the event. They were treated to presents, a candy bag, toiletries, a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a winter coat and dinner. Anyone who wanted to smoke was outside, and the bar contents were concealed for the event, the Assembly was told. “No smoking” signs were posted throughout the club.
    Margaret Peterson, manager of the American Legion Post 13 clubhouse, said the Legion consulted city officials at least a month in advance, and received the go-ahead for the party with the temporary no-smoking rule in effect.
    She said she was surprised two days prior to the party that objections had been raised. “If people had a problem,” Peterson said, “they could’ve worked with us.”
    The American Legion and Legion Auxiliary asked the Assembly Tuesday to vote against the amendment, or put the item up for a public vote. That position was echoed several times at the meeting. Some of the audience members walked out before the vote, in response to comments made by some Assembly members during deliberations, and at one point McConnell had to ask members of the audience for order.
    The Sitka Clean Air Ordinance was enacted by a public vote in 2005. It prohibits smoking in public places, but allows bars and clubs to continue to have smoking as long as no one under 18 is allowed on the premises at any time. The ordinance proposed Tuesday, co-sponsored by Hackett and McConnell, clarifies that a bar or club cannot declare itself nonsmoking for special events, and be open to smoking on every other day.
    Hackett said she saw the ordinance up for consideration Tuesday as a clarification of the intent of the original Clean Air ordinance.
    But City Attorney Robin Koutchak disagreed that the ordinance was clear-cut, with relation to banning smoking for special events.
    “With all due respect to Ms. Hackett, the intent was open to debate,” she said. “It was clear to me what they (the Legion club) were doing was lawful.”
    There was some debate on the health effects on children of second-hand smoke and even “third-hand smoke,” before Assembly members decided to turn the question over to the Health Needs commission for a recommendation. The commission will meet at noon Feb. 11 at Brave Heart Volunteers (the old Pioneers Home manager’s house). The meeting is open to the public.
    While some Assembly members said it is possible to measure air quality and determine health risks in places that allow smoking, others did not.
    “I’d feel more comfortable after some investigation,” Pete Esquiro said.
Buying Local
    The Assembly took its first step toward a new policy to have the city buy goods and services from local merchants when possible.
    The Parker family, which owns the Alaska Computer Center store on Harbor Drive, asked the Assembly to consider a policy that encourages the local government to purchase locally before going outside. At past meetings they have argued it’s in the city’s best interest to support local businesses with the city’s own purchases, because these businesses support the local government with the sales taxes they collect on private sales.
    The proposed ordinance was sponsored by Matt Hunter and Aaron Swanson. It states:
    “It is the City and Borough of Sitka’s intent to promote local purchases whenever the availability, quality, price and delivery is within a 4 percent advantage to what is available outside the municipality for purchases under $2,500 and with a 2 percent advantage to what is available outside the municipality for purchases of $2,500 and above.”
    It calls for the city to establish a “Vendor E-BACK” list of local vendors who will be invited to submit bids on government purchases. Bids would not be required on purchases of under $250.
    The Chamber of Commerce board has passed a resolution in support of the ordinance.
    The Assembly added two amendments, one of which allows for exemptions if there is an emergency, and the second calling for a procedure to gauge the effectiveness of the new policy.
     The ordinance was advanced on a 7-0 vote, but since it was amended it will be up for introduction again at the Feb. 11 meeting.
    AEA Application
    The Assembly approved a resolution authorizing an application to the Alaska Energy Authority for a low-interest loan to fund the rest of the Blue Lake dam expansion project.
    The goal is to lower the costs of the $150 million project. The city can use the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank to borrow the final $18 million on the project, but the AEA loan may offer some financial advantages, the Assembly was told.
    “... We are pursuing every possible funding opportunity to minimize electric rate impacts for our community,” Finance Director Jay Sweeney said in a memo to Administrator Mark Gorman. “This is a parallel path financing effort; however, there is risk that the municipal bond rate may increase during the period we seek the loan.”
    The AEA loan offers a few advantages, including a longer term on the loan, deferment on repayment until the project is completed; no bond counsel fees; and no requirement for a 1.25 percent bond covenant. The statutory minimum interest rate is zero percent, but the expected interest is equal to the average weekly yield of municipal bonds in the 12 months before the loan, Sweeney said.
    “We believe pursuing this loan application stands a better chance of legislative support and funding than a direct grant, although we will retain our legislative request for grant funding,” Sweeney wrote. “City staff has met with AEA and received confirmation that AEA would support the application.”
    City Administrator Mark Gorman said he has been talking to Sen. Bert Stedman, who has pledged to work hard on getting approval for the loan, but said it will be difficult.
    “This will be a political process,” Gorman said. “It’s not a slam dunk.”
    The Assembly voted 7-0 on the application.
    Other Business
    In other business, the Assembly:
    – appointed Jeff Mossige to the Parks and Recreation Committee, Chris Gale to the Tree and Landscape Committee and Chris Spivey to the Planning Commission.
    – gave preliminary approval to the sale of 10,797 square feet of tidelands to North Pacific Seafoods.
    – approved an ordinance on final reading to allow sales of certain local handicrafts and books, by permit, near the cruise ship docks.
    – approved on final reading a zoning map amendment to change the zoning of a parcel on the upland side of Katlian Street from Residential to Waterfront.
    – approved a conditional use permit, 7-0, for welding fabrication in a Commercial-2 zone, at 115 Harvest Way, No. 3. Brian Schauwecker, owner of Brian’s Welding and Fabrication, requested the permit. The Planning Commission endorsed the permit with nine conditions, including operating hours from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Assembly approved an amendment to the conditions, allowing him to operate until 11 p.m. from June through August, which passed 6-1. Hackett voted against.
    – approved sending the mayor to the Cruise Shipping Miami event. Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau director Tonia Rioux and Chamber Director Jen Robinson encouraged the Assembly to have a presence at the trade show. Rioux said sending a city official sends a strong message of “goodwill” to the companies, and signals that the cruise ships will be welcome in the community.
    – heard a report from City Administrator Mark Gorman on a number of issues. Gorman said he, McConnell and Mike Reif met with the McGraws, owners of the deepwater dock on Halibut Point Road, about ways to increase cruise ship visits to Sitka. Gorman, representing the city, will accompany the McGraws on visits to the cruise companies in Seattle and Florida.
    Gorman said organizational talks are under way for Sitka to host an annual Fish Summit, to discuss policy, strategy and marketing related to the fishing industry. Gorman said those involved want to make sure “Sitka remains the ‘silicon valley’ of fisheries innovation.” On a third item, Gorman said he’s working with state officials on a memorandum of understanding for the city to use the vacant Stratton Library on the Sheldon Jackson campus for a library while the city’s new Kettleson Library is under construction.


# Bruce Hedlund 2014-01-31 01:05
Buy local- pay more
When we go to Juneau we load up on everything we can get in the car. I don't feel one bit sorry for local merchants. They jack up the price of the cheap crap they sell to tourists and to us. The goods in Juneau come North on barges, just like ours. Stop whining.
The Assembly is in the pocket of the Chamber of Commerce anyway.

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