Developing an ordinance to deter unwanted exposure to secondhand smoke has been a long and controversial process for the Foster City Council and despite part of its ordinance going into effect this week, it has yet to finalize regulations for smoking in apartments and at restaurants.
The council met Tuesday in an attempt to further amend its new ordinance to address smoking in apartments, condos and townhomes, as well as in outdoor seating areas in restaurants.
Ultimately, the council directed staff to draft an amendment that would ban smoking in all rental apartment complexes and require those who own their own condominiums or townhouses to only smoke indoors with the windows closed. The council also indicated it wanted to revisit the rule six months after implementation.
“Sixty-four percent of the residents of Foster City live in multifamily residences or units so, by banning smoking in apartments, it took a big bite in protecting the residents,” Councilman Steve Okamoto said.
However, the council could not come to a decision on further regulating smoking in restaurants and the current law, which permits smoking in up to 50 percent of outdoor seating areas, stands. Waterfront Pizza, a Mediterranean restaurant with an owner who said it relies on its ability to serve hookah, has been subject of council discord.
Councilman Gary Pollard abstained from voting on a motion to grandfather Waterfront Pizza as exempt under a new law. The vote was split and prevented the council from moving forward.
“I abstained because I did not want the word grandfathered or the name of a restaurant put into an ordinance. … So I figured I’m going to abstain because I’m not happy with either way it’s written,” Pollard said. “At the end of the day, I think everybody got what they wanted, in my opinion. Because they don’t have a time limit nor are they grandfathered forever. It’s just this way if someone wants to bring it up and change it, we’ll try again.”
The council has spent more than a year going back and forth on how to deter secondhand smoke by voting in one direction then changing its course at subsequent meetings.
Mayor Charlie Bronitsky wrote in an email, “the smoking ordinance is not yet final and even now there are unresolved issues. I will continue to work to get it completed this year.”
The council did make significant progress in July after choosing to table the two controversial issues to move forward on what it unanimously agreed.
As of Wednesday, smoking is prohibited 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 does allow single-family home owners to smoke on their properties.
Enforcing the new ordinance will be a combination of policing and code enforcement, said Andra Lorenz, management analyst in the city manager’s office.
If the smoking ban in apartments passes and a landlord fails to post signs or abide by the rules, Lorenz said code enforcement would be processed through the Community Development Department.
“Our goal isn’t fines and punishment, our goal is really the protection of public health,” Lorenz said.
Police Capt. Joe Pierucci said police would first focus on education but will issue fines if necessary.
“We will look for voluntary compliance and we will encourage our officers to use whatever discretion is warranted. And keep the spirit of the law in mind and use whatever action they can to remedy the situation,” Pierucci said.
The city will focus on education until the beginning of next year and a first offense will result in a warning. Starting in 2015, penalties for smoking in prohibited areas would be $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second and $1,000 for the third offense and thereafter.
Pollard said although the council has made headway in the new ordinance, there is still work to be done and more opportunities for the public to weigh in.
“All we did [Tuesday] was vote in favor to send it to staff to come back with the language so let’s see what the language is and that’ll give people the opportunities to talk about it,” Pollard said. “The soap opera will continue.”
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