Smoking and vaping are now banned in downtown's Town Square Park, following approval by the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night.
The vote reversed a June rejection of the ban. Assembly members Tim Steele and Bill Starr decided to change their votes, leading to a 7-4 vote in favor of the measure Tuesday.
Smoking tobacco or using electronic cigarettes in the plaza can now lead to a $100 fine, though the ban does not extend to the Alaska Center Performing Arts property just to the west. The sponsor of the measure, Assembly member Dick Traini, said it was aimed at stopping people from smoking Spice and marijuana in the plaza, though Spice is a banned substance and it's already illegal to smoke pot in public.
The administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has picked up efforts to boost perceptions of Town Square Park as a safe, clean place, including, in late May, removing a fountain seen as a shelter for illegal activity.
Traini — who was responsible for measures to ban smoking in Anchorage bars a decade ago — said stopping smoking in Town Square would aid in the administration's efforts.
But many Assembly members were critical of the smoking ban, including Patrick Flynn, who represents downtown. During the June meeting, Flynn noted smoking in the park did not necessarily indicate illegal activity.
"People misbehaving in Town Square Park — yes, we need to take steps to eradicate that behavior," Flynn said. "But I don't think banning smoking is the way to do it."
Flynn voted against the smoking and vaping ban Tuesday along with Assembly members Amy Demboski, Bill Evans and John Weddleton.
Steele voted for the ban Tuesday. He said he decided to change his earlier vote after hearing pushback from fellow Assembly members as well as his constituents. Even after casting his vote, Steele said he was conflicted about the ban. He worried it unfairly targeted certain groups of people hanging out in the park.
"I could have fallen down on either side of the line," Steele said.
The ordinance takes effect immediately.
Tegan Hanlon contributed to this report.