Smoking Ban Strengthened

On a 10-5 vote, the Council just approved an expanded smoking ban, prohibiting smoking in bars, billiard halls indoor workplaces, and within 15 feet of their main entrances. We exempted tobacco shops (which get more than 90% of their revenue from tobacco sales) and currently operating cigar bars (bars that get 15% of their revenue from tobacco sales). Violators will face a $200 fine, and the ordinance goes into effect April 10, 2009.

I voted in favor of expanding the ordinance (see my reasoning in a previous blog on this issue). Also voting in favor: Mayor Tom Leppert, Councilmembers Elba Garcia, Dwaine Caraway, Pauline Medrano, Dave Neumann, Carolyn Davis, Jerry Allen, Linda Koop, and Ron Natinsky.

Against: Councilmembers Vonciel Jones Hill, Steve Salazar, Tennell Atkins, Sheffie Kadane, and Mitchell Rasansky.

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What Will the Expanded Smoking Ordinance Look Like?

Next week the council agenda includes the proposed smoking ordinance expansion. I can’t speak for the rest of the Council, but I predict the smoking ban will likely include the following expansions:

Smoking will likely be prohibited:

  • Indoor workplaces (smoker/owner can be fined)
  • Bars (smoker/owner can be fined)
  • Within 15 feet of main entrance (patios exempted) (only smoker can be fined)

Not likely:

  • Tobacco shops (which get more than 90% of their revenue from tobacco)
  • Currently operating cigar bars (they will be grandfathered so that they can operate, but no new cigar bars can open)
  • Outdoor patios at restaurants or bars
  • Parks

Likely fine/penalty:

  • $200 ticket to smoker and/or owner
  • Possibility of license revocation for repeat offenses

Workplace Safety: Why We Need to Expand Dallas’ Smoking Ban

The council is considering expanding the city’s smoking ban to include indoor workplaces and bars. I support this expansion.

First of all, I don’t like nanny states. I have no interest in telling adults what they can and can’t do to themselves. If folks want to risk their lives with cigarettes, they should smoke to their heart’s content (or at least until they succumb to congestive heart failure).

But the problem comes when smokers place the health of others at risk. Continue reading

Update on Lower Greenville

After four people were stabbed outside one of the bars on Lower Greenville about six months ago, I pulled together a cross-departmental taskforce to examine problems in the area. Here’s an update on what the taskforce has been doing:

Noise
There continues to be frustration among residents regarding noise coming from bars on Lower Greenville. The police and city attorneys are likewise frustrated because they feel that the fines associated with the city’s noise ordinance are not expensive enough to deter the bars from turning up the volume. There is a perception that, to the bars, the fines levied by the city are simply the cost of doing business.

Because the problems in Lower Greenville have been ongoing for so long, I have encouraged our police and other taskforce members to think creatively about ways to address Lower Greenville problems. I am pleased to report that our police have been working very diligently on the noise issue. One DPD officer noticed that section 101.62 of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (“TABC”) Code prohibits loud noise on the premises. The penalty can include a $750 fine and a suspension of the business’ liquor license.

The DPD has been working closely with the TABC on this issue, and is considering standardizing the process so that a bar would receive one warning, two citations, then the third citation/violation would be forwarded to TABC for an Administrative Case filing. The DPD and the TABC are coordinating to implementing this process now, and will be moving forward with administrative case filings against bars that violate this process. Special thanks to Deputy Chief Harvey, Sargeant Clifton, Lt. Keough, and TABC Sgt. Hamilton for helping to address this important issue for the neighborhood.

Special Permits for Bars
To operate as a bar in Dallas, businesses must obtain a special permit from the city. The permitting process requires a public hearing, where nearby residents and business owners have the opportunity to let the city know whether or not the business has been operating as a good neighbor should.

Unfortunately, in Lower Greenville and other areas of the city, bars like to masquerade as restaurants so they don’t have to go through the public permitting process. Bars are defined as those businesses that receive more than 75% of their gross revenue from liquor sales.

I have been working with our police department, the city attorney, and the city auditor to ensure that businesses comply with the rules and obtain a special permit if they’re bars.

The city auditor will be conducting audits of some bars in Lower Greenville and other areas of the city that are believed to be operating without the proper permit. This is a pilot program, and once the bugs are worked out, it will be expanded.

Parking
The city will be completing an analysis of Lower Greenville parking in the next two to three weeks. Parking in Lower Greenville is remarkably complex. The city requires a certain number of parking spaces for businesses in Dallas, depending on the square footage and type of business. On Lower Greenville, however, businesses get parking credits for non-existent parking spaces. Businesses also often use “parking agreements” with other businesses to fulfill their parking requirements. In other words, a business makes an agreement with another business to “rent” parking spaces from a nearby parking lot in order to fulfill their parking requirements. Such “parking agreements” further complicate the parking situation.

Businesses are also required to keep their parking lots in a certain state of repair, and must have them striped and lit to code. Because parking is such a problematic issue in Lower Greenville, it was important for the city to undertake a parking analysis to ensure that all of the businesses in the area are complying with all city rules and regulations regarding parking.

Infrastructure Improvements
The upcoming 2006 bond contains nearly $500k for street reconstruction of Greenville Avenue from Ross to Palo Pinto. In addition, I added over $800k to to the bond to improve the streetscape for pedestrians, to add lighting, and to make other safety improvements.

There are a number of other issues that the city’s taskforce is working on to improve Lower Greenville, and you’ll be hearing about those efforts in the coming weeks.

Fixing Lower Greenville

Yesterday, I met with Police Chief Kunkle, Central Division Chief Brian Harvey, and other DPD officers to discuss the violent murder and stabbings on Greenville Avenue over the weekend. We met for over an hour and had a productive discussion.

My first question was whether we could have prevented this with additional police presence. Police Kunkle explained that since last November, he allocated $600,000 in overtime pay to Lower Greenville, Deep Ellum, and the Cedar Springs entertainment areas, providing 5 additional officers to Lower Greenville. In fact, Chief Harvey himself was right across the street when the fight broke out that resulted in the stabbings. Police were also at the scene immediately in response to the murder. On Middle Greenville, where the murder took place, the DPD will increase the police on the street between midnight and 3 a.m. starting this weekend.

My next question was, how do we prevent this from happening again? Part of the solution, the police advised, was to work with the bars on crowd control and dispersal. The police explained that fights generally break out when bars close and the streets become congested.

But the police also see this as an extremely problematic area with no simple solution. So where do we go from here? To me, this violence is symptomatic of a larger problem on Lower Greenville. Unlike Deep Ellum, Lower Greenville is a strip of bars surrounded by neighborhoods and families. It is in the middle of a residential area, and there are inherent conflicts.

PARKING DEFICIT
There is a severe parking deficit in Lower Greenville. The lack of parking results in bar patrons parking in front of people’s homes, some of whom return to their cars late at night, relieving themselves in residents’ yards, slamming car doors, playing loud music. We need more resident-only parking, and a solution to our parking deficit.

NOISE
The music from some bars can be heard in the neighborhood late at night, and the roof-top patios exacerbate this. In addition, bar patrons can be loud walking back to their cars parked in the neighborhood.

TOO MANY BARS
There is an over-concentration of bars along Lower Greenville, andwe need a healthier mix of retail and restaurants.

CROWD IS TOO YOUNG
The police tell me part of the problem is the 18-20 year olds who patron the area establishments.

HOW DO WE SOLVE THIS?
Just increasing police presence in the area is not going to solve the underlying problems. That would be a band-aid, and we need a more comprehensive solution that addresses all of these issues. I have received some very good emails with creative suggestions, and I ask that you keep them coming. We must address public safety, parking, noise, traffic, crowd control, and the mix of businesses.

I am setting up a taskforce of city department representatives to examine this issue. Chief Harvey will represent the DPD, and I will have others from code enforcement, the legal department, parking enforcement, zoning, and environmental health (noise). We will begin meeting next week. I will then ask for participation from neighborhood residents and Greenville property owners, so that we can do all that we can to clean up the area and prevent the kind of violent incidences of last weekend.