Foster City explores expanded smoking regulations 

click to enlarge Foster City leaders are in the process of drafting expanded regulations on smoking. - DANNY JOHNSTON/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Danny Johnston/AP file photo
  • Foster City leaders are in the process of drafting expanded regulations on smoking.

Foster City leaders are working to draft a new ordinance in the weeks ahead to broaden the definition of smoking and further restrict the places where lighting up is permitted.

At a recent study session requested by the City Council, Foster City residents voiced concerns ranging from the negative effects of secondhand smoke to the impact legislation might have on personal liberties and private businesses in the area.

"The council is interested in expanding the existing smoking ordinance in a couple ways. Firstly, they would like to change the ordinance to ban smoking at all public facilities -- any city park, City Hall, the levee pathway," said Assistant City Manager Steve Toler, whose office will draft the new regulations. "[It would cover] any outdoor areas that are in the public right of way."

The existing ordinance dates back to 1996 and bans smoking in most indoor public spaces. The city also has a policy of requesting that the public refrain from smoking at city parks and events, though it has yet to be made into law.

Under the expanded initiative, all outdoor public places will likely be designated nonsmoking, as will a number of quasi-public outdoor spaces such as parking lots and sidewalks, including those in front of single-family homes and within privately owned, multiunit residential complexes.

There was consensus among council members that regulation within apartment buildings and living communities would not extend beyond sidewalks.

"What we want to avoid is people being forced to walk through smoke ... other than that, frankly, I think that's market-driven," Mayor Charlie Bronitsky said. "I think some level of prohibition is appropriate due to health concerns, but to me, the invasion of personal property is overreaching."

Rhovy Lyn Antonio of the California Apartment Association said 80 percent of renters prefer smoke-free communities and added that tenant demands have been driving new behaviors.

"Our members have taken a voluntary approach towards smoke-free housing," she said.

Electronic cigarettes and hookahs would be added to an expanded definition of smoking, which currently includes "any lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, weed, plant or other combustible substance."

Some customers of the boardwalk's Waterfront Pizza, a popular Mediterranean eatery that offers hookah on its back patio, had voiced concerns over the impact that increased regulation might have on the business.

But because the council opted to retain a clause from the 1996 ordinance allowing smoking "in up to 50 percent of the outside seating areas of restaurants," the cafe's hookah operations will likely be unaffected.

No smoking will be permitted in areas adjacent to the main entryways of businesses, but the exact definition of a "main" entrance and the width of the buffer zone are pending further review.

The specific penalties violators could face and how exactly the law will be enforced are also still under consideration.

"It's not my personal intention that we have the police out on an active basis enforcing this but if it needs to be, it should both encompass treatment of [violations] as civil penalties and as criminal penalties," Councilman Herb Perez said.

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S. Parker Yesko

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