Secondhand smoke ordinance delayed in Walnut Creek

Filed under: Smoking |

WALNUT CREEK — A city law to ban smoking in most of downtown Walnut Creek as well as in and around apartments and condos has yet to be adopted. However, city leaders say it’s coming soon.

In June, the City Council gave feedback on a draft version of the law and thought it would be coming back for adoption in July. But now, the council won’t look at the revised draft ordinance until Sept. 17, when it returns from a summer break. If approved, it would be adopted by October.

“This was one of our top priorities … and we have something drafted and ready to go,” Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson said during a special City Council meeting July 26. “We need to get this going; every single day, I open up the newspaper and someone else is adopting theirs.”

A majority of the council has wanted a secondhand-smoke ordinance for years. But city staff is working on how enforcement and implementation will be handled, City Manager Ken Nordhoff said at that same meeting.

“We are trying to get these points pinned down; I don’t want to create something where we have an implementation or enforcement problem,” he said.

The ordinance likely will ban smoking throughout downtown, in commercial areas, at public events, and in city-owned parks and in recreational and open-space areas. Originally, the law was going to allow a grandfather clause, where those in multifamily units who are smokers now could continue to smoke until their lease changed or they moved.

But the council directed that it wanted a full ban in both existing and new multifamily units. Smoking also could be banned on multifamily balconies and patios and near entrances and windows. Violators would be cited with fines starting at $ 100.

But questions remain about who will enforce this ordinance so that it has teeth and makes clear to people visiting Walnut Creek that the city is virtually smoke-free.

“Cops aren’t going to run around and tell people to put out their cigarette butts,” Nordhoff said. “We have a very active downtown, and it’s heavily supported by people who don’t live here.”

The county may take up enforcement of the ordinance in some capacity, said city staff, but those details are still being worked out.

Mayor Cindy Silva said she appreciates that city staff is taking the time to make sure the ordinance actually can be implemented.

Walnut Creek has been behind neighboring cities when it comes to adopting secondhand-smoking laws. Pleasant Hill, Richmond and Martinez for years have had laws that ban smoking.

If the ordinance passes, Walnut Creek’s grade for tobacco control from the American Lung Association would improve significantly from its notorious “F” rating.

The law is something that residents have been seeking for years. At the last council meeting on the draft ordinance, in June, speakers pleaded with the council to prohibit smoking, especially in multifamily housing.

Dri Wang, who lives in a Walnut Creek apartment, said she is 6 feet from neighbors whose apartments are below, over and next door.

“When one person below smokes, basically five people are smoking and we have no choice,” she said. “With no ordinance, people like us have absolutely zero recourse.”

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