WALNUT CREEK -- The City Council is poised to ban smoking in most areas in the city as soon as this summer.
After several residents and anti-smoking advocates gave their opinions Tuesday night of a draft secondhand smoking ordinance, most council members said they think smoking should be banned in all multifamily housing, both inside and out. They also did not support a "grandfather clause" enabling those who rent or own an apartment or condo to continue smoking in their units until their lease was up or they sold their home.
Resident Carol Evans said that in multifamily units, where walls are shared and neighbors are close, you can't get away from secondhand smoke.
"If that one person is smoking, it's like everyone is smoking," she told the council.
The new law likely will also ban smoking throughout the downtown, in commercial areas, at public events and city-owned parks and in recreational and open-space areas. Smoking would also be banned on multifamily balconies and patios and near entrances and windows. Violators would be cited with fines starting at $100.
Designated smoking areas would be allowed.
Council discussion, at times, turned into a debate over whether such a ban is governmental infringement on people's property rights or the government's duty to protect people's health.
"I don't think this is a controversial issue at all, and it's not a difficult decision at all," said Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson. "In the state of California, this council has the granted power to protect the health, safety and welfare of our residents. We don't just have the power to do that, we have the responsibility to do that."
Disagreeing was Councilman Justin Wedel, who said homeowner's associations, residential landlords and commercial landowners have the ability to prohibit smoking on their property.
"This is the beauty of capitalism," he said. "I have a fundamental problem with government defining what individuals can and cannot do with their property, especially when smoking is legal." Wedel does, however, support a downtown ban because the sidewalks are public.
The entire discussion Tuesday was preliminary, as the city attorney's office has yet to go over the proposed ordinance. The council will likely hold a public hearing and vote at its July 16 meeting.
If passed, Walnut Creek's grade for tobacco control from the American Lung Association would be bumped up significantly from its notorious "F" rating.
The lone voice against the ordinance Tuesday was that of Robert Cherep, who owns Casa Belicoso Cigar Lounge and is the president of the California Premium Tobacconists Association. The science used to portray secondhand smoke as a danger is "dubious," according to Cherep, noting the ordinance would hurt businesses -- specifically his.
"We have come to a point that anyone who disagrees with the anti-tobacco movement is vilified," he said. "We are asking that you resist the temptation to put prohibition style restrictions in place."
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.