In a move supported by Friends of the Parks and Trails, the Saint Paul City Council on Wednesday (September 27) voted 4–3 to adopt a smoke-free policy for city parks and “certain building entrances,” with the purpose of addressing the public use of marijuana, which is now legal in Minnesota.
Ward 4 City Councilmember Mitra Jalali and Ward 6 City Councilmember Nelsie Yang spoke passionately against the ordinance, which has been before the council with various amendments for six weeks — and with some 100 people testifying, according to Ward 3 City Councilmember Chris Tolbert, who moved to approve the ordinance.
Tolbert, an attorney, pointed out that the ordinance as amended no longer carries any fine or criminal penalty. Instead, he said, it would make strides toward a “smoke-free St. Paul.”
Jalali countered that existing city regulations address public health concerns. Yang, speaking at length, said she wants more conversation about “what shared space is,” particularly with parks, and she said the ordinance “doesn’t address the damage that communities of color have faced,” including the reality that tobacco companies have targeted them.
Importantly, said Tolbert, the ordinance “defines where people can smoke and where people can’t smoke, and that’s an important distinction that policymakers should make and not leave that to the conflicts that could happen in our shared public spaces.”
While recognizing the validity of Jalali and Yang’s concerns (Ward 1 Councilmember Russel Balenger also voted against the measure), Friends of the Parks and Trails agrees with the ordinance’s intent and urges its members to thank those City Councilmembers who voted for it:
- Amy Brendmoen, council president, Ward 5;
- Rebecca Noecker, Ward 2;
- Jane Prince, Ward 7; and
- Chris Tolbert, Ward 3.
Among the four, only Noecker is running for re-election. The new ordinance will take effect in 30 days. Click here to view a video of the City Council meeting, with this agenda item starting at about minute 8.
East Side issues include littered parks
About 40 people attended the “Building Community Forum” event at Arlington Hills Community Center on September 20, including elected officials and residents of St. Paul’s East Side.
District 67A Rep. Liz Lee (DFL), outgoing Ward 7 City Councilmember Jane Prince, Saint Paul Public Schools board members Jim Vue and Uriah Ward, and Ramsey County District 6 Commissioner Mai Chong Xiong were the elected officials in attendance.
Ward 6 City Councilmember Nelsie Yang, who represents the East Side, had planned to attend but was ill.
Elected officials shared the accomplishments and efforts they contributed to their respective areas. Attendees were seated in four groups around large tables and each official (school board, city, county and a staff member from Gov. Tim Walz’s office to represent the state) visited each table for 15 minutes.
“The event was welcoming and a buffet style dinner was provided,” said East Side resident and Friends of the Parks and Trails board member Ashley Ward, who was present.
Takeaways and concerns from the conversations included:
- People who are unhoused.
- Potholes and car damage.
- Lack of mental health supports.
- School employees getting paid too little.
- Vacant houses.
- Beautiful parks on the East Side, but they are heavily littered.
- The area’s wonderful mix of cultures and its growing diversity.
- Light poles around Lake Phalen don’t always work because the copper wiring keeps getting stolen. “Individuals are walking around with clipboards surveying light poles and impersonating city workers,” Ward said.
In addition, electric vehicle charging stations are getting vandalized in the Phalen area and copper wiring stolen, residents said.
Photo on homepage by Tom Dimond, from a September 2023 cleanup of the scientific and natural area of Pig’s Eye Park sponsored by the National Park Service, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Mississippi Park Connection.