After months of debate over how to protect the public in Foster City from secondhand smoke, the City Council voted 3-2 Monday to set aside two controversial aspects to move forward with updating its smoking ordinance.
The council agreed to ban smoking in public areas such as parks, create a 50-foot-buffer from entrances to commercial spaces and to allow those who own their single-family homes to smoke on their properties. However, councilmembers haven’t concurred on whether to prevent smoking in multiunit rental apartments or condos and if it should ban hookah smoke at Waterfront Pizza.
For the sake of progress, the council voted to piecemeal the ordinance by directing staff to spend the next 30 to 45 days working with the owners of Waterfront Pizza and developing amendments regarding regulations of smoking in residential units.
“The tone and the tenor of the meeting was everybody agrees smoking is bad, secondhand smoke is bad. It’s just a question as to what degree you want to legislate and where and that’s why there’s commonality on certain places and we didn’t want to waste any more time,” Councilman Herb Perez said.
Waterfront Pizza is a Mediterranean restaurant and the owners say business relies heavily on their ability to offers hookah smoke at 50 percent of their outdoor seating. Prior to Monday’s meeting, the city’s most recent July 16 rendition of the proposed ordinance would have allowed Waterfront a three-year exemption before being banned from serving hookah.
The new caveat would allow the owners to come up with another solution, such as creating an enclosed and ventilated hookah smoking area that would be acceptable to the city, Councilman Art Kiesel said.
Kiesel and Councilman Steve Okamoto voted against amending the July 16 ordinance because they wanted to keep the provisions to sunset Waterfront’s exemptions while banning smoking in multiunit residences but were glad progress was made.
However, in the past, each time the council has moved to a second reading of a proposed ordinance, last-minute amendments have been made and necessitate further discussions.
“I think we’re spending too much time thinking on the dais and not on thinking behind the scenes during off time,” Kiesel said. “Plus, I think each of the councilmembers has their own perspective that they’re really passionate about and not willing to compromise on.”
Okamoto said although he’d like to see the smoking ban protect as many people as possible and be implemented quickly, the council is rightly working to create something comprehensive.
“This is a very important change in our ordinance, so we want to make sure that we’re giving everyone the opportunity to give us their input,” Okamoto said. “So we want to make sure we’re doing it right.”
The other sticking point has been whether to regulate what people do within their homes.
The council has agreed not to regulate smoking in single-family homes or on the sidewalk in front of a person’s property. But it has been split on whether to ban smoking in people’s rental units or for those who may own condominiums.
Mayor Charlie Bronitsky has said he believes it’s inappropriate for the council to regulate what people do within the privacy of their homes but suggested they pull this portion of the ordinance for the sake of progress.
“I remain hopeful that we will be able to reach a compromise on all of these issues and be able to protect the health of our residents, workers and visitors without trampling the rights of others as well,” Bronitsky wrote in an email.
Perez said another concern is crafting something that treats people of differing means fairly.
“The conversation really centers around apartment buildings and condos. ... You could have someone with an adjoining wall and one could own their condo and the other could rent and they’d be treated differently,” Perez said.
Kiesel agreed he has sincere concerns for those who many not have the luxury of choosing where to live but still want protection from exposure to secondhand smoke.
“Because we put people in affordable housing, in specified units, they don’t have a choice to move and there’s people that can smoke above, below and on either side and the smoke comes through the walls and they don’t have any protections whatsoever. And that’s my passionate one,” Kiesel said.
To ensure the ordinance carries weight, the council approved strict penalties of $250 for the first violation, $500 for a second and $1,000 for subsequent violations, Perez said.
The new ordinance will be presented for a second reading Aug. 4 and, if approved, would go into affect about 30 days later, Perez said.
“I am ecstatic that we have had forward movement and in the best interest of the community,” Perez said. “With regards to the other two outstanding issues, I’m confident they will both be resolved by staff to the satisfaction of the council, balancing the needs of policy and public safety.”
For more information about Foster City’s proposed smoking ordinance, visit fostercity.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106