Mountain View Voice

News - December 2, 2011

Major smoking clampdown is in the air

by Daniel DeBolt

Smokers may soon have to curb their habits in Mountain View, thanks to a city proposal to nix smoking in and around outdoor dining areas and within 25 feet of publicly accessible buildings.

At a public meeting about the city's proposal on Tuesday the only real opponents were nightclub and bar owners who said such an ordinance could hurt their businesses. However, most were sympathetic to the cause of reducing second-hand smoke, including one downtown employee who said she was a smoker.

"I don't want to harm people but I don't want to quit smoking either," she said, adding that it appeared that she would have to stand in the middle of the street to smoke when downtown.

The proposed ban would mean a $50 citation for smokers who stand within 25 feet of most public buildings, private businesses and outdoor dining areas, including those at restaurants and picnic areas in public parks. Smoking is already banned within 30 feet of a playground. As a result, smoking would be largely banned in busy commercial areas like Castro Street and much of the city's park space. An exception is given to smokers who are "actively passing by to another destination," according to a city staff report.

Smoking would be prohibited 25 feet from the windows and doors of most publicly accessible buildings, including workplaces, restaurants and anywhere smoking is already banned.

"The county doesn't want that smoke lofting into where employees could be exposed," said Kim Castro of the city's parks and recreation department.

The ordinance is the result of a push by Santa Clara County after it received a $6.9 million federal grant to reduce second-hand smoke exposure. As a result, the cities of Gilroy, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale also have such ordinances in the works. The Mountain View City Council decided to pursue the ordinance last year.

At Tuesday's meeting, bar and nightclub owners wanted an exception to allow smoking to continue on their outdoor patios.

"I think an exception will have to be made for businesses like mine," said Sara Zigler, president of Zen Lounge nightclub on Castro Street. Zigler said the ordinance would create several problems, including a loss of business from customers constantly leaving her club to smoke and an increase in smoking on the street and in nearby alleyways.

Bar owners also objected to being put into the position of having to "police" their patio areas to stop smokers.

"I would be asking my employees to police my patio and I don't want to put this on my employees," said the owner of Sports Page on Shoreline Boulevard. "I also feel it would be really insulting customers who have supported me all these years."

City staff said it would not be the responsibility of business owners to act as police, but Nicole Clemens of the city attorney's office told business owners that "if you are found to be allowing them to smoke on your premises you could be cited."

A solution for the nightclubs and bars could be "designated smoking areas away from where everybody is going to be dining and dancing and having fun," said Hewitt Joyner, project manager for Breathe California of the Bay Area. In the case of Sports Page, city staff said the bar's patio appeared large enough to accommodate such an area 25 feet from the door.

The city plans to put up new signs and receptacles for cigarette butts if the ordinance is approved next year. The ordinance is set to go before the City Council in January.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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