• Actions went to help for HERC, Poopdeck land clearing, slowing down the speeders at Old Town
By Naomi Klouda
How do e-cigarettes impact public health? That’s a question broached by the Homer City Council Monday night in a new ordinance that could ban the devices from use in public buildings.
Councilman David Lewis introduced the measure, “an ordinance … to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in city structures, vehicles and watercraft.” The public can weigh in on its hearing and second reading Aug. 11.
At least one person on the council didn’t like the idea of regulating a smoking substitute that has helped people quit the deadly tobacco variety. Councilman Beau Burgess wanted to talk about it before the idea was introduced.
“I pulled this (for further discussion) not because I don’t think e-cigarettes are bad for you. It’s because at this point, there is little evidence that shows someone smoking e-cigarettes is doing something harmful to those around them,” Burgess said. “I would rather error on the side of limited regulation, particularly where there’s a lack of information that this causes harm to those around them.”
Burgess argued it’s not the government’s business to take action unless there’s an activity presents clear public risk. “We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves,” he said.
Lewis defended the concept. It only relates to places where regular smoking is already banned. He got the idea when told about people smoking at the public library.
“I thought it wouldn’t be good for little kids to see someone pull out an e-cigarette at the library. It glorifies the use of those and of smoking,” Lewis said. “Most cities have stuck them in the same categories as regular cigarettes. The verdict is still out on whether they are good or bad to the people around them. But we can keep it with what we do with smokers. You can’t use them on planes.”
Lewis is the only city councilman who smokes. He talks frankly about how difficult it is to quit the deadly habit.
The possibility of a public airing on the topic intrigued some members of the council. Francie Roberts said she looks forward to it.
“I agree there appears to be little evidence that (e-cigs) present harm for second hand smoke. Let’s hear from the public on this,” Roberts said. She hasn’t made up her mind on whether a ban in the traditional no-smoking places should apply, but wanted to see the measure given a chance in an introduction at Monday night’s meeting.
In a roll-call vote, all agreed to introduce the e-cig ban ordinance except Burgess who voted ‘no.’
In other matters:
• HERC to get help: Resident Kathy Hill spoke on behalf of the old Homer Educational Recreation Center, which is currently under consideration for a funding proposal to bring it up to fire code. She said many people use the gym, and she urged the council to keep in mind the many uses for it in the future.
The council will vote Aug. 11 on Ordinance 14-37, which would appropriate $19,000 from the leased property depreciation fund to the HERC building.
• Poopdeck land clearing: Frozen winter likely is the easiest time to clear trees and shrubbery from the problematic Poopdeck area bordering the Town Center and Homer Public Library lands. The public complains the area attracts illegal activity and crime; the murder of a Homer man took place there, which has yet to be solved. Mark Matthews, 61, was found dead off the Poopdeck Trail on July 28, 2013.
Friends of the Homer Library Sue Mauger gave the organization’s support and pledge to help in any way needed with the clean-up. Clearing the land fits with the Friend’s vision to one day open an outdoor reading theatre and other events that integrates the natural setting with library offerings.
Ordinance 14-36 will award the Poopdeck land clearing contract after bids are requested by the city. But the initial amount listed in the ordinance was too high at $35,000. Burgess said his business provides a similar service, and the costs do not rightly mount that steep.
“That may be double, maybe triple, what would is a reasonable bid to do the job,” Burgess said. “I think we can do a lot better than this.”
After some discussion, the council set the maximum bid amount at $25,000. That’s a cut-off amount before a contractor must pay out Davis Bacon wages. That amount or less is a more accurate reflection of actual costs, Burgess said. Council members agreed, giving City Manager Walt Wrede the green light to proceed with an RFP.
• Approved: An ordinance that allows adding “open air businesses” as a permitted use in several areas of Homer, such as the commercial business district. The idea developed to expand opportunities for Homer Farmer’s Market, brought forth by Council-member Roberts. Since flee markets and farmers markets are already allowed in city code, this change clarifies by adding the words “open air businesses” allowed on the industrial lands east of the airport. It extends the use to the General Commercial 2 Zoning District. This adds a new area for the permitted open air businesses.
• Old Town gets $84,000: An ordinance was approved Monday night that appropriates $84,000 from the HART Fund to pay for traffic calming in the historic Old Town of Homer. This comes from the city’s account for roads and trail improvements.
Councilmembers Gus Van Dyke and Barbara Howard introduced the measure at the urging of residents long plagued by beach-goers who speed through en route to Bishop’s Beach. A $90,000 grant in 2013 paid for trail improvements that help with the area’s walkability and beautification. The neighborhood will now be able to implement a pilot project that includes four speed bumps, two speed bumps in the Bishop’s Beach parking lot, rumple strips or flexible wands to delineate the pedestrian lanes – and a solar powered speed awareness sign.
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