Bring back the smoking ban

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The proposal to ban smoking in public places, including restaurants, is being resurrected by the dedicated group of anti-smoking activists who call their organization Smoke Free Oak Park. Their previous proposal was voted down by the former village board, but it makes sense for the issue to be revived and reviewed by a new board, and, in fact, the topic has been placed on the board's agenda for Feb. 27.

That's a good thing. The smoking ban movement is gaining momentum, and we see it as inevitable. This is not a case where Oak Park is too far out in front of other communities. This is a case where Oak Park may well be left behind by others, including the City of Chicago, which, we believe, sooner than later, will approve a ban. As a matter of municipal pride, we don't want to see Chicago lead the way.

Restaurant and bar owners have, and will continue to, claim that banning smoking will hurt business, but the evidence just isn't very compelling. Instead of lobbying to prevent a ban, we'd prefer to see the focus on pushing for a statewide ban in order to level the playing field for everyone?#34;so that Oak Park restaurateurs don't have to worry, say, about their customers forsaking their establishments for a more smoker-friendly Forest Park.

The fact remains that non-smokers are the majority, and the heavy cloud of smoke that hangs over traditional bars may well drive away as many patrons as it attracts, especially in Oak Park. A recent Oak Park Health Department survey indicated that 62 percent of residents favor smoke-free restaurants.

By February, establishments like Poor Phil's, which opted for a voluntary ban on smoking, will have a clearer sense of whether the move has made any dent in their business.

Either way, this is an issue that won't go away, and we want to see it brought back to the front-burner.

Light the stadium

We've seen a number of "Light the Stadium" signs planted on front lawns in Oak Park and River Forest, a reference to Oak Park and River Forest High School's football stadium, which remains lightless a full four years since the high school brought in temporary lighting for a Fenwick-OPRF soccer game to demonstrate just what's possible. Since that game in 2001, the high school has installed artificial turf and the hardware to support permanent lights. They've also put in lights on the South Field across Lake Street. No, not everyone is happy with it, but overall, the addition has been a boon to the school's sports programs.

We feel the same way about the football stadium. Lights will be an annoyance for some neighbors, but the benefits for the entire community far outweigh what is, in our opinion, a minor intrusion. Friday night football will significantly increase attendance at OPRF games and offer the added benefit of providing an activity for bored teenagers looking for something to do other than hanging out or cruising. Busy families simply have too many competing activities on Saturday afternoons. Hence the mostly empty stands.

We're not sure what's been holding this process up, but we'd like to see it move forward. The Huskie Booster Club is ready and eager to help raise the funds. All they need is the go-ahead.

Some neighbors will be upset and their concerns should be addressed within reason, but blocking the lights altogether isn't reasonable. Let's light the stadium.

Go Huskies!

And speaking of OPRF football, congratulations to the 2005 Huskies, who not only finished the regular season with their first winning record in years, but also made the state playoffs for the first time since 1998. Let's hope this represents a turnaround season for a long-suffering program.

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