Outdoor smoking ordinance to be discussed at council meeting

City Council is considering stepping up local enforcement of state law that prohibits the sale of tobacco to minors.

As the city continues to pursue a ban on outdoor smoking in public places, the vast majority of respondents to an online survey say they support such a policy.

The city council will hear a report Wednesday on recent efforts to establish a “secondhand smoke” ordinance that would prohibit smoking in the city’s outdoor dining areas, entryways, public events, recreation areas and service areas such as ATM lines.

While the city won’t be able to pass an ordinance by the March 2 deadline to receive a $15,000 grant from Santa Clara County for efforts to raise community awareness about tobacco use and the new guidelines, city staff think they can continue the process of drafting the ordinance and still gain reimbursement for staff time.

A city staff report did not unequivocally rule out the receipt of the grant, but said the funds “may be jeopardized” by the delayed process.

Following a lengthy discussion about the efforts at a parks and recreation commission meeting Jan. 17, commission members were concerned that a draft of the ordinance was not yet written for their consideration. Following the discussion, city staff agreed to extend the public comment period through an online survey, to which more than 630 people responded over a two-month period.

The vast majority of those who responded to the 10-question survey – about 86 percent – said they support prohibiting smoking in outdoor areas. Support was lower when asked if they’re in favor of prohibiting smoking in certain specific areas such as outdoor events such as the Mushroom Mardi Gras (57 percent), public sidewalks (55 percent), and outdoor public work sites (60 percent).

Downtown restaurant owners who provide outdoor dining areas said last week they have never had a significant problem with smokers being inconsiderate, or non-smoking customers being repeatedly bothered by nearby tobacco use.

Some wondered how the ban would encourage economic development in the downtown area – also one of the city’s stated goals.

“An ordinance will drive a lot of people out of downtown” where a sizable portion of the city’s night life is, said Huntington Station owner Dan Creighton, who prohibits smoking on his outdoor dining patio. “They should be thinking about what to do to bring business in. I think it’s a big mistake.”

Maurizio Cutrignelli owns two restaurants downtown – Maurizio’s and Fuzia – both of which offer outdoor dining. A former smoker, he also prohibits smoking at his outdoor tables even though he understands the concerns of smokers who feel they’re being discriminated against.

“It’s not a bad idea because there’s kids around,” Cutrignelli said. “It’s not fair to some, because they pay tax just like the rest of us, but (banning smoking) in small areas is not a bad idea.”

He added he has never had a problem with customers who want to smoke in front of his restaurants.

Ricatoni’s manager Randi Bara said she allows smoking at that restaurant’s outdoor tables, but only if there are no other customers nearby who might be bothered, and so far the smokers have been “pretty courteous.”

Morgan Hill Cigar Company manager Jeff Burrus, speaking for himself and not for his shop, said there are number of issues with the proposed ordinance.

One is that the “health risk” of secondhand smoke outdoors might be “overstated.”

Plus, even though the shop would benefit from smokers seeking refuge from the smoke-free outdoors downtown, most of the customers he has talked to about the subject are opposed to an ordinance. “The customers feel there’s too much regulation as it is,” Burrus said.

He also suggested that where the ordinance might regulate public events, that such events be permitted to have a designated smoking area. Otherwise, the events might not gather the attendance and thus economic benefits desired.

Outdoor dining areas, he added, are private property, and Burrus doesn’t think the owners should be required by the city or any agency to prohibit smoking on their own property.

The council will discuss the issue at its meeting Wednesday. The PRC will then consider a draft ordinance at its March 20 meeting, and by April the council will conduct a public hearing and possibly enact a final draft of the ordinance.

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