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Council bans smoking around restaurants and bars

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

On Tuesday the Claremont City Council, by a 4-1 vote, approved the first reading of an ordinance that would expand the city’s existing smoking ban to include a 20-foot buffer around eating and drinking establishments. The ordinance would also alter language to include vaping and E-cigarettes in the ban.

The new ordinance is the direct result of a community outreach blitz by an organization calling itself Smoke-Free Claremont, whose members began speaking at public meetings in September requesting that the council reconsider prohibiting smoking in outdoor areas.

In October 2008, the city council adopted an ordinance banning smoking in city parks, and in 2010 the council expanded that order to include city plazas. The council considered once again a further expansion to include public places such as patio areas at bars and hotel common areas, but rejected that idea in April of 2010.

Two years later, the council passed a resolution declaring the city a healthy community that encourages a smoke-free environment, and erected 64 signs around the city proclaiming that message. However, the rule is not enforceable since it is only a resolution.

The Claremont business community was involved in the discussion to expand the smoking prohibition, including a survey which received 49 responses that were overwhelmingly in support. According to a document provided by the city, 87.75 percent of respondents favored the ban, while 90.7 agreed it should be all types of smoking including vaping.

The draft ordinance would prohibit smoking within 20 feet of restaurants, bars, and drinking establishments, including outdoor patios and the new parklets that restaurant owners have constructed to comply with COVID-19 regulations.

The ordinance also revises the definition of smoking to include vaping, including “lighted or heated or activated” forms of tobacco, nicotine and marijuana, whether natural or synthetic. This includes electronic cigarettes and vape pens. It would also require that any smoking related waste, such as cigarette butts, be disposed of in an appropriate manner such as placing it into a trash receptacle.

The new rule would carry a fine of $100 for first violation, $200 for second and $500 for third or subsequent violation in one year.

The city will either change or replace the current signs to include more specific information about the new ordinance, but a final decision on signage was not made Tuesday. Additionally, the ordinance will require owners or operators of properties where smoking is prohibited to display signs, however, those signs could be simple paper printouts.

Smoke-Free Claremont’s initial request was to ban smoking citywide, including outdoor worksites, sidewalks and bus stops. But through subsequent meetings with city staff and consideration of some of the reasons that the 2010 ordinance did not go through, those broad restrictions were narrowed to the current proposals.

“Staff suggested narrowing their focus to the areas of their concern,” Jamie Earl, assistant to the city manager said during a staff presentation.

As a point of clarification, Ms. Earl said that drinking establishments include those that serve alcohol as well as coffee shops and even juice bars. In response to a question from the council, Ms. Earl said the ban would include a “20- foot radius” around any restaurant or bar including the rear of the building.

Councilmember Corey Calaycay cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing that the existing resolution should be adequate and that compliance might increase if the current signs were repositioned to locations where people are likely to light up.

He also felt that a smoking ban was something that needed to be passed by the state to avoid a patchwork of laws. He also found the state to be hypocritical, punting on controversial issues such as smoking bans, but when it comes to land use, state officials want to make decisions about local development and zoning.

“Why doesn’t the state just ban it? That makes more sense because then it’s uniform and everybody knows [the law]. This is a state issue and the state should address it,” Mr. Calaycay said.

He also expressed concerns about increased enforcement, which was also brought up during public comment.

“For the good of our community’s health we will find a way to enforce it,” Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen said. “Often times there is an initial education period [with a new ordinance] but ultimately we get more compliance and we issue very few tickets.”

Councilmember Jed Leano focused on the 25-year-old law that prohibits smoking in California’s restaurants, arguing that coronavirus era laws that prevent people from dining indoors takes away the guarantee that one can enjoy a meal without being subjected to second hand smoke.

“It doesn’t make sense that because you are dining outdoors you lose the protection under state law, which is a smoke free dining experience,” Mr. Leano said

“I agree with you, Mr. Calaycay, the state should be doing this, but I think we need this until the state does,” Mayor Schroeder said. “I think that one of our responsibilities is [to protect] the health and safety of our community.”

There will be a second reading during the council meeting on November 24 and the ordinance will go into effect 30 days later. The council also asked for the existing resolution to be agendized for the next meeting so vaping and marijuana could be included in that document.

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