I am a resident of and taxpayer in Oak Park, having moved here by choice in 2000. I am a non-smoker. One of my primary motivations for selecting this community was its reputation for tolerance and its acceptance of diversity in all its amazing dimensions.
I was therefore very surprised and concerned when over the past months I became aware of the village's discussion on the possible implementation of a smoking ban for all businesses in Oak Park, including restaurants and bars. Because I will be out of town on business, I wanted my voice to be heard as I will be unable to attend any public hearings or trustee meetings in person.
I feel strongly that the trustees need to assess the long term impact of a complete ban versus the short term political gain of such a decision. They should be certain they are not responding to the persistent tirades of a few individuals versus the economic viability of the community.
Tourism is extremely important to this community, and many tourists here (especially many internationals) are smokers. The dollars they spend in our restaurants are not insignificant. The City of Chicago looked at the impact of tourism on its revenues and decided such a ban would not be in the best interests of the city's business community.
We have many local small business owners here. I can easily see a number of these establishments closing or relocating to nearby communities (i.e. Forest Park) and taking their patrons with them. I do not consider their threats as idle. If the smoking ban were to be implemented statewide, Oak Park and its restaurateurs would not be in such a precarious position. But to implement the ban in isolation in turn isolates the village.
I did not come to Oak Park to have access to chain establishments I can find all over Chicago?#34;I came for the unique character of the establishments here. I do not wish to see my taxes increase over time due to a shrinking tax base brought on by short-sighted decisions which put people out of business. One only needs to look at the rapid growth of high-end restaurants in Forest Park to realize our businesses could easily relocate in a more favorable business environment close by. If our trustees have not been in Forest Park recently I suggest they pay a visit to places like Piazza or Café De Luca, just to name two fine additions to the Madison Avenue district. It has not escaped my notice that recent articles have alluded to a "non-user friendly" attitude toward new businesses in our village. It is clear there is a booming market right next door and complacency on our part in terms of luring and keeping fine restaurants and bars here is not a commendable strategy.
There a number of other issues to consider briefly:
1. A smoking ban in restaurants and bars could mean the end of employment for many individuals working there (servers, bus staff, cooks, cleaning staff, etc.) not to mention the impact on the service industries which support these businesses.
2. Adults have the freedom to choose whether or not they wish to dine in a given restaurant. Let's not try to make Oak Park into a community where diversity is nothing but a catch phrase for marketing purposes?#34;let's truly be tolerant of individuals with other preferences. As adults we must learn to accept some responsibility for our own behavior rather, than asking the local government to legislate to the "nth" degree every aspect of our lives. We are not asking for restaurants to stop serving alcohol or fried foods?#34;both of which can be detrimental to one's well being as well! Restaurants that wish to ban smoking should be allowed to do so, of course, but this is a business decision. After all, it is their money and hopes and dreams they invested in Oak Park, and their personal livelihoods are at stake.
3. Life is rarely all or nothing. Other communities have taken a long look at this issue (Evanston, Wheeling, and Arlington Heights are good examples), and have come up with compromise positions. It seems to me that kind of effort on the part of the trustees would satisfy more of the constituencies in the village and not just please one group to the detriment and exclusion of others.
I know this is a complex issue but it is important to view it from many sides, and not just the one side (health) as has been done in the past. I hope the trustees, along with the village staff, will do their homework well before considering passing such an ordinance. Such homework should likely include more than a review of the recent survey conducted by the Citizen's for a Smoke-Free Oak Park?#34;the results of which have to be viewed with at least some measured skepticism. An independent polling firm might be a better choice for due diligence on the matter.