After removing two controversial facets of an ordinance aimed at protecting the public from secondhand smoke, the Foster City Council will reconvene Tuesday night to discuss regulations for restaurants and multi-unit residential buildings.
Before passing a new ordinance July 21, the council set aside decisions on smoking in outdoor restaurant seating areas and whether to ban smoking in apartments, condos or townhomes.
After more than a year of debate, the new ordinance took affect Sept. 1 and prohibits smoking on city-owned property such as parks and streets, at public events and within a 50-foot-buffer zone from entrances to commercial spaces. The regulation allows single-family home owners to smoke on their properties.
“We are going to protect our children and our families from random exposure to smoking. So a mobile person with a cigarette walking around haphazardly, to the detriment to everyone, we have precluded them from smoking,” Councilman Herb Perez said. “I think the bigger message for smokers is — ‘your days are numbered. Get another habit.’”
On Tuesday night, the council will discuss further amending its new ordinance.
Private versus shared
For councilmembers, protecting against secondhand smoke is a priority, but some are concerned with regulating what people do in their homes and whether those who own or rent should be treated differently.
“I just personally think there’s a limit to what government should be regulating,” Councilman Gary Pollard said. “At what point do we draw the line? People have to take care of themselves and they have to make smart decisions. Government can’t protect people all the time.”
Throughout hearings, Mayor Charlie Bronitsky and councilmen Pollard and Art Kiesel have leaned toward prohibiting smoking in rental apartments but not in privately owned properties.
Despite the fact that those who live in apartments, condominiums or townhomes share walls and common areas, renters and owners could be treated differently.
Perez said whether one rents or is able to afford a home in a multi-unit dwelling, smokers shouldn’t infringe on their neighbors.
“Smoking in multi-unit dwellings should be illegal and it should be no different between a renter and an owner because that’s part of your contract. You’ve entered into a contract where you’re part of a community,” Perez said.
Councilman Steve Okamoto said he prefers smoking be banned in all shared homes and at minimum in rental units.
“But what I think we’re going to be comfortable doing is any rental unit and if an owner of a condo or townhouse rents or leases the property and they’re not living there, than that rental agreement should include no smoking [provisions],” Okamoto said.
Foster City is not alone in its efforts to ban smoking in shared residential units. According to a city staff report, 26 cities and counties ban smoking in shared residential units, including condominiums and townhomes, and 12 cities and counties prohibit smoking in apartments only.
Eating and smoking outdoors
Waterfront Pizza, a long-standing Mediterranean restaurant and hookah bar, is Foster City’s only establishment currently using the city’s provision to allow smoking in up to 50 percent of outdoor seating areas.
The restaurant’s owner previously said they recently invested nearly $400,000 to expand and remodel, have a long-term lease and their business relies heavily on the ability to serve hookah.
To appease the city, Waterfront Pizza has offered to install fans and air curtains, railing on either side of its dining area to better define the restaurant and place additional signs warning hookah smoking is allowed on the premise, according to the report.
“In my opinion, they have put forward a proposal that has both signage and barriers so people can make a choice whether to go into that area; so it’s not to the detriment of everyone. And that’s consistent with our policy,” Perez said.
Initially, the council proposed grandfathering in Waterfront Pizza, but according to the staff report, it has since received a request from a new nearby Edgewater Place Shopping Center restaurant owner. The owner of Le Burgeon expressed interest in allowing smoking in part of its outdoor seating as well, according to the report.
Perez said Le Burgeon occupies a corner lot and is more isolated than Waterfront Pizza. When the council creates policies, they apply equally, Perez said.
Okamoto said the rationale for Waterfront Pizza continuing to offer hookah was it was vital to its business model, which isn’t the case with Le Burgeon that seeks to permit cigar smoke.
Pollard said he’s interested in hearing from Waterfront Pizza at the meeting and the council will need to decide if new restaurant restrictions apply to all.
“I don’t think we should limit the ordinance to identify one place. Either it’s 50 percent smoking and nonsmoking and provide signage and make that the guidelines for other places. We want this to be thoughtful,” Pollard said.
According to the staff report, 73 California municipalities prohibit smoking in all outdoor dining areas and 46 entities limit the ban to less than 100 percent of the outdoor areas.
Okamoto said he’s hopeful to move forward with strengthening the city’s smoking ordinance. With the council’s direction, staff would return with the proposed amendments for adoption at a later meeting.
“I feel confident we’ve studied it and discussed it amongst the council and we’ve given ample time to the public to give us their opinion,” Okamoto said. “So I think we will be able to make some resolution [Tuesday] night.
The Foster City Council meeting begins 6:30 p.m., Sept. 2 at City Hall, 620 Foster City Blvd. For more information about the city’s smoking ordinance visit fostercity.org.
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