CITY OF LAREDO
PUBLIC HEARING AND WORKSHOP
CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS
1110 HOUSTON STREET
LAREDO, TEXAS 78040
NOVEMBER 16, 2005
I. CALL TO ORDER
With a quorum present, Mayor Pro Tempore Valdez called the meeting to order.
II. ROLL CALL
Hector Garcia, Council Member, District II
Johnny Rendon, Council Member, District V
Gene Belmares, Council Member, District VI
Jose A. Valdez, Jr., Mayor Pro Tem, District VII
Juan Ramirez, Council Member, District VIII
Gustavo Guevara, Jr., City Secretary
Larry Dovalina, City Manager
Cynthia Collazo, Deputy City Manager
Horacio De Leon, Assistant City Manager
Rafael Garcia, Assistant City Manager
Jaime Flores, City Attorney
Motion to excuse Mayor Flores, Cm. Agredano, Cm. Amaya and Cm. Galo was not present.
Moved: Cm. Garcia
Second: Cm. Belmares
For: 4 Against: 0 Abstain: 0
III. PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
Mayor Pro Tempore Valdez led in the Pledge of Allegiance.
IV. Regarding amending Chapter 15, Health and Sanitation, Article VI “Indoor Clean Air”, of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Laredo, Texas by amending Sections 15 – 78 through 15 – 81; “No Smoking in Public Places”; providing for violations, enforcement and penalties of the policies implementing this Chapter; providing severability; and providing for an effective date and publication.
Sarah de la Garza, a member of the Webb County Youth Coalition of Scan, read the following statement: “It is extremely important that we pass a stronger smoking ordinance for three reasons: smoking can cause businesses to loose money because customers of all ages don’t appreciate smelling second hand smoke. Even employees are concerned about the effects of second hand smoke. A fellow youth member, Charlie Cantu, who works at a restaurant has expressed annoyance of having to smell cigarette smoke and even expressed concerns for his health. The second point is smoking affects everyone’s health. It has been proven that second hand smoke effects are just as fatal as if they were smoking the cigarette themselves. Finally, smoking affects younger generations. School and parents are trying to teach their children about the consequences of smoking; however, if children of adolescence see that smoking is accepted in a family environment they will be influenced to smoke at younger ages. In conclusion, the passing of a stronger smoking ordinance will benefit businesses and their employees. Please help everyone’s health and help children to avoid becoming victims of smoking.”
Christopher Craddock, representing himself and his family, read the following, “As we end the year of 2005 the facts concerning tobacco smokers are overwhelming and undeniable. No longer is second hand smoke considered just a nuisance rather it is a major health risk that causes numerous illnesses and death. Even Philip Morris, one of the largest producers of tobacco products, publicly states on their website that second hand smoke is a significant health risk and that the conclusions of public health officials concerning second hand smoke are sufficient to warrant measures that regulate smoking in public places and I would like to say that deciding whether to pass a confidence of a no smoking ordinance is a public health issue. It is not a freedom of choice issue or a business issue. The reality is that democratic governments have always recognized that their candidate should be a limitation on people’s and businesses behavior when that behavior affects other people. Especially the people’s health and safety. Fireworks laws, drunk and driving laws, and health standards that are already set for restaurants all of these were created with an understanding that freedom is not absolute and the people should not legally be permitted to engage in behaviors that knowingly harm others. What I am asking is that the comprehensive smoke free ordinance in Laredo if it is passed, and we hope it is, would not prevent smokers from smoking but it would protest the health and safety of all people. The key thing here is not just the patrons it is the employees as well. Privately owned businesses that are open to the public are public places and that is a key issue that a person must keep in mind. As far as the arguments that go that it would hurt the businesses in Laredo is that cities and states that have implemented these ordinances have not suffered severe economic losses. He further asked Council to make it against the law to hurt others through second hand smoke in Laredo by passing the ordinance that is being proposed today.
Ms. A. J. Mitchell, with the Texas Department of State Health Services, said that she was present to offer information on smoke free environments and the effects of smoke free/in-door air ordinances. She exhibited a study that was done in El Paso, Texas which is pertinent to Laredo since both are border cities from Texas. El Paso has one of the strongest clean in-door ordinances in the country with no adverse affect on business as a result of the ordinance. The results are done by sales tax revenues or as a percentage of the sale tax in the city. The tobacco industry will say in all of their studies that there is a decrease in business but their results are not based on sales tax revenues. Every independent study based on sales tax revenue show that there is not a decrease and again it is a public health issue. Second hand smoke causes asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, and a host of other medical problems. If you do not smoke but work in a smoking environment the affect is though you smoke a pack a day. Smoking causes as many deaths as other health issues such as: food handling, cleanliness, and asbestos controlling. She went on to describe the cost benefits for having a non-smoking ordinance.
Cm. Belmares said that he had several issues that concerned him in the first ordinance that was presented to Council. The first issue being that it was freedom of choice, and he believes that it is. Ultimately it is the Council’s responsibility to protect our children, - our meaning parents. In the absence of that, the government should step in and regulate the health issues. He was also concerned with the cost to comply issue would force the smaller businesses to close. It becomes very difficult for small businesses to find the resources to comply; thus, creating an unleveled playing field. The issue of patron flight occurs when the customer leaves the smaller business to go to the larger business because they do have the monies to comply. People make investments and they take risks. In the absence of responsible participation from our constituencies and in the absence of behaviors that protect everyone, the government intervenes. He expressed his support for the “no- smoking ordinance” rather than the previous structured no-smoking ordinance.
Francisco Ramirez, Chairman of Webb County Community Coalition, stated that the Coalition has been working hard to make Laredo a healthier place to live by addressing tobacco and second hand smoke. The main concern has consistently been to protect children and the working staff that may be affected by second hand smoke. The Coalition has worked behind the scenes with the community, Health Department, City Attorney, to create something that is similar to what other cities have in place. He noted that they are enforcing ordinances that are fair to establishment big and small. He continued by saying that he had worked with individuals that suffer medical problems caused by smoking and they are the first ones to give advice to others to stop smoking. He stated that it is extremely vital for the ordinance to be approved so that we can start impacting the next generation of our future citizens.
Larry Dovalina, City Manager, noted the workshop was provided to inform Council about the ordinance because there had been a shift from the original ordinance that was proposed. He said that Council could either elect to approve of the ordinance or send it for a referendum.
Cm. Garcia commented that he agreed with Cm. Belmares on the first proposal because he was not totally convinced that the City should approve of a total smoking ban. He believes that there are a lot of restaurants in Laredo that do not allow smoking and that are where he takes his nephews and nieces. He said “less government involvement” is better because we as adults have responsibility to take our children and protect them. He added that people that have choices. He said that he preferred the first proposal rather than a total ban. He further explained that he does not have a problem with approving an ordinance that does not allow smoking in restaurants but he requested more information on banning smoking in bars.
Cm. Belmares asked staff who would enforce the no smoking ordinance. He also asked who would be cited in a no smoking ordinance – the business or the smoker?
Mike Barrera, Pastor of the United Baptist Church, thanked the Council for considering the issue of no smoking in public places. He thanked the Council Members for commenting that they should keep government out of the private sector. He noted that only 22 percent of Laredoans are smokers which mean that Council should concentrate on the 78 percent. He added that if Council takes the lead in passing the no smoking in public places they would send a strong statement that would speak loudly.
Cm. Rendon said that he realized that adults have the knowledge and choice to go into clubs or restaurants that allow smoking. He expressed his concerns for the employees that work in the smoking environment.
Dr. Gonzalez, Health Director, said that the Health Department has been working on the “no smoking in public places” ordinance since the last time that it was presented to Council. He continued by saying that he is working to create an ordinance that would be more comprehensive and inclusive. The department has interviewed other cities on their enforcement laws advising that it varies from city to city. He advised that when Council includes a penalty with an Ordinance that most people follow the law. The department’s inspections and enforcement departments have been evolving as the City grows with new challenges. Prior to issuing citations, the City will educate the community about the Ordinance. He provided the following material:
Deaths in Texas from Smoking
Adults who dies each year from their own smoke: 24,100
Kids now under 18 and alive in Texas who will
ultimately die prematurely from smoking: 484,600
Adults, children & babies who die each year
from other smoking. 2,640 to 4,690
· 3rd Leading cause of preventable death in the United States
· Secondhand smoke is the combination of the smoke given off cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.
· 53,800 people die every year from secondhand smoke exposure.
· Children are at significant risk to many acute and chronic diseases as a result of secondhand smoke exposure.
· For every eight smokers who dies, one nonsmoker is killed by secondhand smoke. An estimated 2,500 to 4,500 adults, children, and babies die each year from others’ smoking in Texas
Smoking Related Costs in Texas
Annual health care costs in Texas directly caused by smoking. 5.36 billion
Portion covered by the state Medicaid Program. 1.40 billion
Residents’ state & federal tax burden from smoking-caused
government expenditures. $554 per house
Smoking-caused productivity losses $6.14 billion
Impact on Revenues
No negative impact in Arlington, Austin, Plano, And Wichita Falls on restaurant revenue
using sales taxes as a measure.
In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published the results of a study that found
no decline in total restaurant or bar revenues occurred in El Paso, Texas after the city’s
smoking ban was implemented on January 2, 2002.
Why “No Smoking”
Advertising a smoke-free environment is likely to attract more and new patrons.
Most smokers do not stop eating at their favorite restaurant when it goes smoke free, they
just quit smoking in it.
To Protect Public
To Protect Future
To Protect the Environment
Smoke-free policies not only work to protect nonsmokers from the death and disease
caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, but also have an immediate, positive effect on
the Public’s Health.
Centers for Disease Control recently issued a warning for anyone at risk for heart disease to
avoid smoke-filled indoor environments completely.
Cm. Belmares expressed that he has been researching the pros and cons and questions how much authority should the government have in our lives. States and communities alike are all moving towards the clean in-door policies.
End of report.
Valeria Acevedo, Assistant City Manager, advised that according to the Ordinance letter (f) from the enforcement section which the owner/proprietor can be cited as well as the smoker in a non-smoking business.
Cm. Belmares said that the business owner should post the proper signage but the responsibility should fall solely on the smoker.
Valeria Acevedo reminded the Council about the patron and the owner are cited when they issue alcohol to minors.
Dr. Gonzalez advised Council that the business owners are cited but he is willing to
explore the possibility of having the smoker given a citation.
Cm. Belmares mentioned several events where people were smoking in a no-smoking building. He said that he does not want to create an ordinance that will not be enforced.
Dr. Gonzalez explained that the changes cannot take place overnight because staff needs for businesses/patrons to understand the changes. He said that the ordinance will consider the economy, safety, and health of the community. In lieu of non-compliance he advised that staff will begin to issue citations once the education process has been completed.
Cm. Rendon stressed the importance of issuing citations at the City owned facilities.
Dr. Gonzalez said that once he is sure that the ordinance has been approved he will expand his staff to assure that they are prepared to be efficient and maximized.
Cynthia Collazo, Deputy City Secretary, said that they have considered cross-training other city inspectors.
Cm. Belmares said that the attractiveness of a referendum is that Council will be able to follow the voter’s desires.
Cm. Valdez asked if the City has the option of including what they want in their proposition?
City Manager said that the Council would decide what would be included in the referendum.
Cm. Garcia noted that he had a problem of passing an ordinance that does not allow smoking in non-food bars. He advised that he is concerned for the employees of the bar; however, he said that they should apply at a business where they do not allow smoking.
Larry Dovalina, City Manager, advised that staff could obtain the information from a survey for a minimal fee.
Cm. Belmares said that the survey would go a long way in guiding Council weather or not to initiate a referendum.
Dr. Gonzalez said that his staff has completed Council’s task by returning with a new ordinance that has taken into account data from other cities. He said that they have informed Council of the economic impact. He stated they have tried to provide an ordinance that was incorporated and comprehensive. Finally, he stressed that if the no-smoking ordinance is approved it would be a slow process of staffing, educating, and then enforcing.
Cm. Belmares said that someone once wrote that the “politicians will worry about the next elections but statesmen need to worry about the next generation” and that is what he is focusing on. He said that he wants to protect the businesses as well. Council wants to make sure that they address the health issues, patron flight, cost compliancy, and equal protection under the law. The community needs to buy into a referendum so Council can follow their desires.
Cm. Garcia said that he totally agrees with Cm. Belmares
Larry Dovalina, City Manager, said that staff will review the issues of a referendum verses an ordinance and report back to Council with recommendations. He advised that they would also complete a survey regarding no-smoking. Finally, he said that they will look at amending the current ordinance addressing shifting the responsibility to the patron and to the proprietor.
Cm. Garcia remarked that he would like for the referendum to be included in the May election.
Motion to adjourn.
Moved: Cm. Garcia
Second: Cm. Rendon
For: 4 Against: 0 Abstain: 0