Come December, Menlo Park smokers must watch where they toke or face possible fines and even lawsuits from smoke-weary residents.
The new smoking ordinance cruised through council chambers 5-0 last Tuesday, banning all smoking in most public places, such as parks, athletic fields and even covered parking lots. The ordinance also regulates multi-unit private residences, making it illegal to smoke in the common areas of apartments and condominiums. Whether tenants are allowed to smoke at home, however, is up to the landlord. Single-family homes are not covered.
Although smokers were given some leeway under the new regulations, some council members thought that was too much and hinted they might attempt to rescind these exceptions next year.
"I would go a bit further," council member Andy Cohen said. "We should place the burden where it belongs – on the smoker."
City Attorney Bill McClure said the law includes an exception permitting bars, restaurants and tobacco shops to designate outside smoking area. Smoking will still be allowed on streets and sidewalks, so long as the smoker isn't near a populated area.
Most residents attending the council meeting were staunchly anti-tobacco, and vocal, about their concerns.
Barbara Franklin became the smoking ban's flag-bearer in late 2008 when her new neighbor -- a smoker -- moved in. She gave an impassioned speech to the council Tuesday, highlighting a long list of health ailments she said stem from second-hand smoke.
Smokers were not completely voiceless.
Susan Lacoste, a smoker living in a smoker-friendly apartment complex, said people are subjected to dangerous chemicals and environments every day
"And I don't know if we can legislate against all of them," Lacoste told the council. "How is this going to be enforced?"
Unless an officer sees a violation, enforcement will follow citizen complaints resulting in a formal warning. After that, fines will start at $50 for the first violation, $100 for the second and move from an infraction to a misdemeanor for the third, McClure told the council.
The city can declare the smoker a nuisance and pursue abatement, if a smoker persists and the complaints roll in, much the same way a city forces a property owner to clean up a blighted property, McClure said. Landlords cannot be sued for a smoker's behavior on private property. But if a neighbor feels damaged by second-hand smoke, they can sue the smoker under the law.
Before the council meeting, the owner of Knickerbockers Cigars expressed relief that the council tossed out the old ordinance.
"The original was way too strict," said Bill Davis, a San Jose resident. "We have to support our smokers. I think the council is being fair."
Along with Knickerbockers, which allows cigar smoking inside, businesses Café Borrone and the British Bankers Club complained to the city earlier this year that a total smoking ban would hurt them. Adjacent to one another, the three establishments allow terrace smoking and will not be affected by the ordinance.
Council Member Heyward Robinson has described that patio area meeting as a "big cloud of nastiness."
Council Members Cohen, Robinson and Fergusson want to strengthen the ban in the future. The Council plans to revisit the ordinance in a year.
The new regulations take effect 60 days after the council passes a second and final reading of the law at its Sept 28 meeting.