By editorial board • 

Smoking ban an idea whose time has come

Loitering, which appears to wax and wane in downtown McMinnville, has been waxing of late. And with our tourism-centric community heading into the heart of the summer tourist season, the city is duty bound to curb this behavior to the maximum extent possible.

The essence of the problem seems to be bands of shabbily dressed youths congregating on downtown sidewalks to curse and smoke. Intentional or not, their presence has become menacing enough to not only deter downtown visitors, but also a good share of locals.

Most diners and shoppers don’t care to share downtown sidewalks with ruffians or ruffian lookalikes, particularly after dark. They can readily find more welcoming places, and that promises to hit us all in the pocketbook.

Then there’s the aroma of tobacco smoke hanging in the air and clinging to clothing. Most people would rather not run that kind of gauntlet. They will eventually learn to look elsewhere if we can’t do a better job curbing it.

The city council is considering an ordinance to ban smoking within 25 or 50 feet of downtown’s signature Third Street corridor. It’s a lot easier to enact and enforce a ban on smoking than it is to ban loitering and sale of fortified alcohol, both cited as potential alternatives.

Cooks, waiters and dishwashers would still be able to slip out the back door into an alley alcove to light up. And the loitering element would still be able to congregate downtown, as long as it didn’t venture onto Third.

The council has already taken action to disperse unsightly and unsafe RV encampments on city streets. And it is at least discussing investing in paint, signage and landscaping to make the transient-infested, bare-concrete parking garage more inviting, though we’d like to see it moving much more swiftly on that front.

Both the enacted RV crackdown and contemplated smoking ban might be seen as measures aimed squarely at the local homeless community, which doesn’t have many other options. But they can also be seen as measures targeting behavior detrimental to the community at large, no matter who’s engaging in it for what reason.

The council also needs to continue working to provide additional shelter space, a wider range of affordable housing options and, perhaps most directly, some places where dilapidated RVs can be accommodated without disrupting well-established neighborhoods.

That side of the equation requires a greater investment of time, effort and money, so must out of necessity proceed more deliberately. But that’s no excuse for other councilors to direct the entire burden Remy Drabkin’s way, ditching their own share of the responsibility.

Homelessness is not just Drabkin’s problem or even the city’s problem. It’s the entire community’s problem, so requires support from all of us.

We will no doubt need to wield a big stick at times. But we must also be prepared to speak softly, listen intently and provide some reasonable alternatives for accommodating the destitute in our ranks.

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