Drink alcohol, smoke, vape or build a campfire in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands or city parks, and you could currently face jail time. But the Anacortes City Council is considering an ordinance that some council members feel makes more sense — punishment by fines.
The ordinance would make unauthorized alcohol possession, camping, campfires, smoking and vaping in the city forestlands and parks civil infractions punishable by fines rather than misdemeanors punishable by jail time.
Alcohol use and camping would still be allowed in Washington Park.
City Council members Ryan Walters and Carolyn Moulton introduced the proposed ordinance on Sept. 23 to make the rules easier to enforce. Currently, some offenses carry jail time, but are time-consuming to take to court while others have fines that are not consistent with the penalty provided for in city code.
Walters and Moulton said they also want to prevent another smoking-caused fire, like the one that consumed 18 acres near Little Cranberry Lake in August 2016.
“As a misdemeanor, these things are not enforced,” Walters said. “A misdemeanor is a criminal offense; it is a permanent stain on your record, it also offers an opportunity for a jury trial. The type of offense we’re talking about really doesn’t rise to that level. And so as a practical matter, the prosecutor doesn’t bring (to court) misdemeanor offenses for alcohol in the parks. We think that one should be reduced to a civil infraction. Make it easier to enforce — issue a ticket and we’re done.”
Walters said smoking and vaping would be prohibited in city forestlands and parks to reduce the fire risk and “for the public health problems of smoking and vaping in places where children may gather.”
Julie de Losada, public health analyst with the Skagit County Board of Health, said the Board of County Commissioners passed an ordinance prohibiting smoking and vaping in outdoor places where children congregate, and Moulton said the city’s proposed ordinance is consistent with the county’s effort.
The City Council will further discuss the ordinance before voting on it. As proposed, the ordinance would:
• Change drinking or possession of alcohol in parks and the ACFL from a misdemeanor to a class 2 civil infraction (a $125 ticket).
• Prohibit smoking and vaping in city parks and the ACFL, making it a class 1 civil infraction (a $250 ticket).
• Prohibit fires in the ACFL and making it a class 1 civil infraction (a $250 ticket).
• Prohibit camping in the ACFL and making it a class 2 civil infraction (a $125 ticket).
Brian Wetcher, a member of the ACFL advisory board, voiced support for the proposed ordinance.
“There’s very little or no police presence in our forest land. We don’t have an enforcement mechanism,” he said. He recommended the council add fines for dog-related violations, saying the city spend thousands of dollars a year on Mutt Mitts and annually removes thousands of pounds of dog waste from the forestlands.
City Councilman Anthony Young supported the proposed ordinance, saying it would help prevent fires in the ACFL and “the additional costs associated with it.”