How to ensure bans on smoking in multi-unit buildings and flavored tobacco sales in San Carlos could be shaped to be fair for landlords, tenants and business owners and give them time to adjust was a focus for San Carlos officials Monday as they introduced two city ordinances aimed at curbing the effects of secondhand smoke and youth access to tobacco products.
Officials voted 4-0 to give the green light a set of rules banning smoking in all new and existing units as well as within 30 feet of the doorway of a unit in multi-family buildings, requiring property owners to install no smoking signs in their buildings and affording property owners a 14-month phase-in period. Councilman Adam Rak was absent from the meeting.
Councilmembers also voted unanimously to approve a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products as well as the sale of all tobacco products in pharmacies. Both ordinances were largely modeled after county regulations adopted in 2014 and 2018, respectively.
Though they also considered a ban on smoking within 30 feet of entrances to public buildings, such as restaurants and businesses, councilmembers opted to do a more comprehensive review of possible regulations for businesses at a later date. Officials also decided against establishing a 1,000-foot buffer around a school in which tobacco products cannot be sold out of concern for such a business on the 1600 block of Laurel Street also within 1,000 feet of the Redwood High School at 1968 Old County Road.
Acknowledging the many residents with concerns about secondhand smoke and its health effects, Mayor Mark Olbert noted the need to balance an individual’s right to smoke with the needs of the community.
“This is a matter of balancing interests,” he said. “It’s the interest of the person who really does enjoy smoking and the interest of the person who wishes they didn’t have to smell cigarette smoke.”
Though some residents advocated for officials to increase the no-smoking distance requirement around entrances in multi-unit buildings, officials ultimately opted to keep the buffer at 30 feet out of concerns about the difficulty of enforcing a larger buffer given the possibility of people who passing through a portion of the building. In response to residents’ questions about the length of the 14-month phase-in period, officials also discussed whether they should consider shortening the phase-in period.
Rhovy Lyn Antonio, vice president of public affairs for the California Apartment Association, said the association felt the proposed ordinance met the needs of many of the property owners the organization represents in San Carlos. But Antonio advocated for officials to adopt the 14-month phase-in period, which she said would give landlords and tenants who agree to a yearlong lease just before the ordinance’s adoption time to phase the lease out and adjust to the new rules.
Antonio was also appreciative of the proposal’s outlining requirements for a designated smoking area in buildings should property owners choose to provide one for tenants who previously smoked in their homes.
“You are trying to change their behavior, you’re not trying evict the residents,” she said.
With 26 years of experience as an educator, Mindy Hill, wellness director at the San Carlos Elementary School District, warned officials about the popularity of flavored tobacco products among students and studies showing their perception of the products’ harm has decreased in recent years. With a growing risk of students becoming addicted to tobacco products, Hill urged officials to take whatever steps necessary to prevent youth from accessing them.
“We need to do whatever we can to reduce access to these products to really be a community that reinstalls that accurate perception of harm for our students,” she said.
Though Olbert joined his colleagues in supporting the ban on flavored tobacco sales and tobacco products in pharmacies, he emphasized the importance of educating people on the products’ effects and expressed a hope they would revisit the regulations in the future to assess their impact.
“There is a part of me that kind of recognizes that there are so many, many different ways of people getting access to these products that relying on banning the sale of them alone is, to me, not a particularly wise thing to do if our goal is to try and keep people from getting addicted to them in the first place,” he said.
In other business, councilmembers approved a 6 percent tax on gross receipts from commercial cannabis activities in the city. In November of 2017, the council opted to allow commercial cultivation, manufacturing and testing of cannabis but chose not to permit the retail sale of cannabis within the city limits. Voters passed a ballot measure in November, giving the City Council authority to establish a tax of up to 10 percent of a business’ gross receipts. So far, the city has received one application from a cannabis product manufacturer to obtain a commercial cannabis business license.
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