La Feria votes against banning smoking in public places

LA FERIA — Jerry Saavedra stood at the podium at City Hall pleading his case to the commission to vote for an ordinance to ban smoking in public places.

His main arguments were other cities had passed the same measure, it didn’t hurt business and it helps eliminate heart attacks and reduce the disease people have to deal with.

In the past two years, not a single city he’s approached as a representative of the American Heart Association has shot his proposal down.

“What’s it going to change for downtown?” asked Julian Guevara, a La Feria city commissioner. “It’s already a non-smoking area.”

Recently the city commissioners voted 3-2 against an ordinance that would stop smokers from lighting up in public buildings.

Mayor Pro-Tem Eric Hoff was the tie-breaking vote.

After lengthy public comments from local residents asking the commission to approve a comprehensive smoking ban, city leaders decided otherwise.

Commissioners decided against the ordinance because most public buildings already have a no smoking policy in place.

“Today’s (Tuesday) support for the ordinance was overwhelming,” Saavedra, said. “At the end of the day, this is about improving the health of the community.”

Discussion went back and forth.

During the open forum discussion 10 residents took the stand to support a ban on smoking in public places and two took the stand to say why they were against the measure.

City leaders were firm on the notion that there is no smoking in public buildings and there is no need to have a smoking ban ordinance.

Prior to the vote, Councilwoman Esmeralda Lozano made a motion to table the action, but Commissioner Jesse Zuniga motioned not to table and proceed with the vote against an ordinance to ban smoking in public buildings. It was seconded by Commissioner Don Garcia.

Commissioner Julian Guevara said he needed more time to think about the decision.

La Feria resident Barbara Barbro said she was not in agreement with the will of the commission to oppose a citywide ordinance to ban smoking in public buildings.

Her husband, Joe, didn’t like the decision either.

“We can’t go to the Legion because it’s too smoky and it makes us sick,” Barbara said.

By denouncing the ordinance, the city of La Feria becomes the only city in the Valley to not vote to officially ban smoking in public places.

“Every community has to decide for themselves if they want the city to be smoke fee,” Saavedra said.

Alton was the first city in the Valley to go smoke free.

The city of Harlingen, Lyford, Penitas, Rio Hondo, San Benito, Mercedes, Edinburg and Weslaco are among the other cities that have adopted the ordinance in the past two years.

“Every community that has done this has not had a negative impact,” Saavedra said. “What we see is heart attacks go down, strokes go down, throat cancer goes down and this is something that is going to improve the quality of life for the community.”

He said all that will change is people will have to step outside to smoke instead of causing people to breath toxic chemicals.

“This does not hurt business,” Saavedra said.