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Guest perspective: Safe ... but not safe enough
April 07, 2014, 05:00 AM By Steve Okamoto

In recent Foster City Council meetings, we have discussed two items that are designed to create a safer environment for residents — items that would make it better for you to live, work and play here in town.

The items discussed were changes in our smoking ordinance and improving the safety at the intersection of Edgewater Boulevard and Port Royal Avenue. In regard to both topics, many speakers came to the podium to address their concerns. Some even brought petitions with close to 100 names to emphasize their points of view.

Regarding the issues of pedestrian safety at Edgewater and Port Royal, when the council heard testimony from the public, we believed a flashing yellow light would be sufficient to allow pedestrians the chance to cross the street safely and with confidence. At the same time, some councilmembers reminded the audience that driving safely was a personal responsibility and paying attention to their driving would also make the intersection safer.

When the vote was cast, I voted “yes” because I felt that a flashing yellow light was better than removing the crosswalk to discourage pedestrians from crossing there. Removing the crosswalk was the previous council decision and would have been the default action if no other action had been taken.

I had made a motion to install four-way stop signs but got no second so my motion was defeated. I agree a flashing yellow light could make the crossing by pedestrians safer but, in my opinion, a four-way stop sign would be even better. In addition, by installing a four-way stop sign instead of a flashing yellow light, vehicles entering Edgewater from Port Royal would have a better opportunity to enter the intersection safely.

I still am convinced that a four-way stop is the best and most economical solution and will continue to work to get one installed at this strategic intersection.

As for the second issue, the smoking ordinance, when it was discussed at the second of two study sessions, I felt the decisions made were adequate, that the council felt they did its duty in protecting the residents from unwanted secondhand smoke. We suggested that smoking be banned from sidewalks but stayed out of the privacy of residents’ homes, apartments and other living units. We all felt that respecting personal space and privacy was our guiding factor.

However, where I felt disappointed was the approval of maintaining the right for restaurants with outdoor dining space to allow that only 50 percent be reserved for non-smokers. Or, putting it the other way, that smoking will continue to be allowed in 50 percent of outdoor dining space. There was no discussion around this issue, so that part of the ordinance stayed on the books.

The council received letters from the Chamber of Commerce and the owners of a local restaurant suggesting that there would be a reduction in sales if there was a 100 percent ban on smoking in their outdoor space. The restaurant allows for customers to smoke hookah, a water pipe popular in Middle Eastern culture that creates dangerous secondhand smoke.

My feeling about removing all secondhand smoke from public spaces did not change as I know of the dangers to the human body created by primary and secondhand smoke. I will continue to work toward creating a 100 percent ban on smoking in outdoor eating areas, but I need your help. If you agree that all outdoor smoking in our restaurants should be eliminated, please write to your councilmembers, urging them to change the current ordinance. The discussion will be at a City Council meeting again in May. At that meeting, the first reading of the ordinance will be made and it will give you another opportunity to make your voices heard.

If you want our air to be the best on the Peninsula, we’ve got to work together to eliminate all outdoor smoking. For you and our kids, health and welfare is our number one priority.

I would love to hear from you on items of health and safety in our community like the changes to the smoking ordinance and the safety of both pedestrians and vehicles at our intersections.

Steve Okamoto is a member of the Foster City Council. He can be contacted at



Tags: smoking, would, council, ordinance, outdoor, smoke,

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