Smoking issue ignites debate 

The city’s much hyped smoking ordinance — once thought to be a complete ban on lighting up within city limits — has become a balancing act between individual and public rights.

Because smoking is a legal act, Vice Mayor Warren Lieberman was adamant that smokers be allowed to puff within the confines of their homes and in relative comfort during the day.

But nonsmokers cannot be forced to breathe what has been identified as a toxic substance; according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, "250 chemicals in secondhand smoke are known to be toxic or carcinogenic."

Belmont city officials hope the ordinance will strike a balance somewhere between those rights, once formally written and voted on.

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, more than a dozen residents and the five council members shared thoughts on what Belmont can do to strike a balance.

According to Councilman Dave Warden, that balance lies in labeling smoking a public nuisance, similar to noise disruptions, when enforcement only follows complaints.

"If someone is enjoying a cigarette and they’re not bothering anyone, they should be allowed to do it," Warden said.

A result of residents’ complaints at Bonnie Brae Terrace, one of the primary focuses of the ordinance is protecting residents in apartments, townhouses and condominium complexes from drifting smoke.

"The goal is to have it a public nuisance and to allow tenants in multiunit residences to have a remedy that works for them to stop the smoking without having to prove all kinds of things that would be expensive and time consuming for them to do," City Attorney Marc Zafferano said.

One concern that still needs to be addressed is liability for the nuisance.

If smoking is ultimately banned in communal living areas and complexes, some residents are concerned that property owners would become liable for the private actions of their tenants.

"If this is really as insidious as they’re making it to be, this would of course be a benefit to residents. But once you start dictating to a resident what they can or can’t do in their home, where does it stop?" said Papia Gambelin, public affairs director for the California Apartment Association, Tri-County Division.

Zafferano said his office will likely set a date for the ordinance to be presented to the council within the next week. It will be brought up for discussion and a vote at a future council meeting. The ordinance may be adopted at a meeting that follows.

"We’re going to be drafting something that we think reflects at least a majority of their positions on all the different options," Zafferano said.

jgoldman@examiner.com


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