Santee bans smoking on trails, takes steps to district elections

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Santee’s City Council banned smoking on its city trails and took the first steps to changing to district elections at its meeting last week.

While the amendment to an existing ordinance bans smoking and vaping on trails such as the Walker Preserve and near Mast Park, the council didn’t expand the ban to all city parks and open spaces.

That was the prevailing sentiment of nearly all speakers at the Jan. 10 meeting.

Santee’s City Council banned smoking on its city trails and took the first steps to changing to district elections at its meeting last week.

While the amendment to an existing ordinance bans smoking and vaping on trails such as the Walker Preserve and near Mast Park, the council didn’t expand the ban to all city parks and open spaces.

That was the prevailing sentiment of nearly all speakers at the Jan. 10 meeting.

“In the future, you should broaden (the ban), and make it more comprehensive,” said Lisa Bridges, coordinator from the Santee Solutions Coalition.

Because the smoking ban won’t apply to city parks, there will be confusion about where it’s prohibited, causing some to ignore it, said Carol Green from Community Action Service Advocacy, an East County nonprofit.

Although most city council members agreed banning smoking on city trails was needed, they were reluctant to install a wider ban at all parks as exists in practically the rest of San Diego County.

Councilman Rob McNelis seemed reluctant to support any ban, saying limiting freedom of others “is not what the Constitution is all about.” For lack of a second motion his request to separate vaping from the ordinance because e-cigarettes weren’t a fire hazard nor harmful died.

Councilman Stephen Houlahan said he was open to voting to expand the ban to all city parks, but noted he didn’t have the votes. “I want to make a motion for the big kibosh but I’ll probably get kyboshed,” he said.

The council considered including banning smoking now legal marijuana in the measure but were dissuaded from doing so by City Attorney Shawn Hagerty who assured them that smoking of weed was prohibited by state law in all public areas.

The council approved the amendment to its code by a 4-1 vote with McNelis opposed.

The council also took the initial steps towards adopting a district system of elections instead of the current citywide system of voting.

Several council members said the move was being forced upon them by Sacramento and was unnecessary for a relatively small city. “We’re going to take a population of 56,000 and divide it by four,” said Councilman Ronn Hall. “We’re going to lose a lot of choice.”

The change would mean voters living in a district could vote for a single council representative. The mayor would likely remain chosen by all city voters. Santee’s five-member council is made up entirely by white men.

The reason for the proposed change is to give minority populations a better chance to be represented on an elected body.

“This could change the entire dynamics of how we govern and who governs our city,” said Mayor John Minto.

Several councilmembers noted all cities in California were being forced to adopt district elections, and those that resisted would be sued.

Should current litigation by a few cities opposed to district elections prevail then Santee could reverse its decision to adopt this system, McNelis said.

The vote to hire a consultant to help the city draw up a map to divide the city into districts for a sum not to exceed $50,000 was approved 4-1 with Hall opposed.

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