Smokers may find fewer places to light up as city of Alameda officials look for ways to protect people from second-hand smoke. But some are saying the proposed ordinance goes too far and are hoping the effort will be snuffed out.
The new law, if eventually approved, would ban smoking in all outdoor public places, such as at bus stops and ATMs, as well as throughout all multi-unit rentals, including all balconies and porches.
The law effectively would ban outdoor smoking -- such as on public benches and in doorways -- in commercial areas across the city, including on Park and Webster streets and Alameda South Shore Center.
"Smokers only bother me when I walk past and can smell the smoke or a cigarette," said Janine Magas, a 31-year-old Alameda mother of two, as she walked through South Shore on a recent afternoon. "I don't want to infringe on anyone's rights. But I also think smokers need to respect the health and rights of other people. Especially since most people nowadays do not smoke."
Supporters of the new ordinance, which came before the City Council on Tuesday, say it will prevent areas that are used by the public from becoming "de facto" smoking spots for employees on breaks.
But smokers say they are being unfairly singled out.
"I rarely smoke, even at home," said Mikal Prosser, 24, who also lives in Alameda. "It's usually at a bar when I am trying to relax. It's a designated area. I am not breaking any laws."
Patrons and staff at Lucky 13, a bar on Park Street, are circulating an online petition, asking for the proposed ordinance to be amended to allow smoking at outdoor patios that are not used for food service. If the new law is approved, the petition says, the bar would take a hit financially, plus it would have to pay $15,000 for new signs, inspections and other costs.
Joe Churchward, owner of the Churchward pub on Park Street, said he fears his customers would patronize Oakland's booming downtown bar scene if city leaders do not change the ordinance.
Up to 90 percent of his patrons are smokers, Churchward said.
"The small business owners will suffer," he said.
Under current state law, smoking is prohibited in most indoor places of employment. If adopted, the Alameda ordinance would extend the protections to all indoor workplaces now exempted by state law and add outdoor workplaces and vehicles used as work sites.
Multi-unit dwellings are included because secondhand smoke cannot be controlled by ventilation or air cleaning, according to city officials. However, smoking possibly may be allowed at complexes in designated outdoor areas with certain restrictions.
"We are not trying to control anybody's choices or force them to quit smoking," Mayor Marie Gilmore said. "What we are trying to do is protect public health. And it's been demonstrated time and time again that second-hand smoke is a health hazard."
Tuesday marked the first reading of the ordinance by the City Council.
It will go through a second hearing Nov. 15. If passed, the law would go into effect Dec. 15.
Among the changes the council suggested was including provisions that declare secondhand smoke a nuisance and to remove e-cigarettes from the definition of smoking.
The council also wanted more background on whether the ordinance could be extended to Alameda's beaches.
Councilman Doug deHann said banning smoking at outdoor patios of bars also needed another look.
"I think you do have an impact on individual entrepreneurs," deHaan said.
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter @Peter_Hegarty.