Smoking in public could soon become illegal in Foster City after the City Council instructed staff to draft an ordinance prohibiting smoking on the streets and sidewalks at a study session Monday night.
It was the third meeting concerning the city’s 17-year-old smoking ordinance and the council decided to move forward with prohibiting smoking on any city-owned property and may expand the 25-foot buffer zone around main entrances of private businesses. It did, however, refuse to regulate smoking on private property, including apartment buildings and will continue to allow restaurants to provide up to 50 percent of outdoor seating areas designated as smoking.
Questions about personal liberties, property lines and business models were discussed, but city officials maintained it’s ultimately about health and safety concerns and preventing the public’s exposure to secondhand smoke.
“[Smoking] is not a personal liberty, this is not a right, I don’t even think it’s a privilege,” Councilman Herb Perez said. “I don’t think anybody has a right or a privilege to affect the health of somebody else.”
Members of the public, many who lived in apartments, spoke in favor of banning smoking in multi-family residences at the study session. The vast majority of renters prefer to live in smoke-free residences and most apartments already have no-smoking policies in place, said Rhovy Lyn Antonio, spokeswoman for the California Apartment Association.
“Eighty percent of renters actually prefer moving into a community that has a smoke-free policy … smoking provisions have been driven by market demands,” Antonio said. “Due to the fact that most multi-family building communities are voluntarily smoke-free, we ask the council to evaluate the necessity of [including it in] a smoking ordinance.”
The council ultimately decided not to regulate private property and suggested people form homeowners associations instead.
“We control the public spaces, so to me, no smoking in public. If the public owns it, no smoking,” said Mayor Charles Bronitsky. “All we ask is you act responsibly. I think some level of prohibition is appropriate because of health concerns but, for me, [regulating] some level of personal property is overreaching.”
Although the interior of peoples’ homes may be off-limits, the sidewalks directly in front of their homes aren’t. The council instructed staff to move forward with the ban but councilmembers Art Kiesel and Gary Pollard were unsure about approving an ordinance prohibiting people from smoking directly in front of their property.
The council agreed electronic cigarettes and hookah will be identified as tobacco products. But Perez was concerned a new ordinance would be a detriment to Waterfront Pizza, a Mediterranean restaurant that serves hookah within 50 percent of its outdoor patio area.
Patrons of Waterfront spoke at the meeting to express support of the restaurant and point out people can choose not to frequent the establishment.
The public and city officials agreed secondhand smoke is harmful and those who wish to refrain from exposure should be afforded protection. Sam Hindi, a Foster City resident and business owner, believes Waterfront offers those who wish to smoke a venue to do so.
“It’s providing a space and time for those who want to smoke to be away from those who don’t want to smoke,” Hindi said.
Blanche Aram, a resident who doesn’t smoke, said people can choose whether to go to Waterfront.
“Indoors, I understand it where people are living in residences that don’t want to be exposed; and in parks, I understand that. But when it comes to a business, I think it gets a little tricky,” Aram said. “If I don’t like it, I simply go somewhere else, just like if there’s a restaurant that serves food I don’t like, I don’t force them to change their menu.”
As a city nestled against the Bay with lagoons and waterways, the council should consider regulations that will help deter the litter associated with smoking, said Alison Chan, spokeswoman for the environmental activist group Save The Bay.
“This is an environmental issue as well as a public health one. What many people don’t realize is cigarettes are toxic plastic litter,” Chan said.
The council instructed staff to research how it could pragmatically enforce the ordinance; whether it will be a civil matter handled by the City Manager’s Office or a criminal one police would have to oversee will be discussed at a later date.
After city staff readies a draft of the new ordinance, it will return to the council for a hearing and public comment, Assistant City Manager Steve Toler said.
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