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Petaluma City Council OKs tough smoking restrictions

Published: Monday, December 3, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 7:49 a.m.

Petaluma smokers soon will have fewer places to light up.

The City Council late Monday night unanimously approved broad new smoking restrictions, including banning smoking in multi-family housing units, such as apartments and condos, and from certain outdoor spaces, including private balconies, decks, courtyards and bus stops.

Meant to protect nonsmokers from exposure to second-hand smoke, the ordinance was the result of efforts by advocacy groups, such as the American Lung Association. It is similar, although somewhat more stringent, than no-smoking rules Sonoma County has implemented during the past year.

In a last-minute change, the council went even further than supporters proposed, banning smoking in hotels, motels and temporary lodging facilities. Initially, the proposed ordinance required 80 percent of rooms be nonsmoking.

The changes will go into effect in phases beginning early next year.

"I would love to see this strengthened even more. . . . Maybe we could go further," said Councilwoman Teresa Barrett, whose comments were echoed by at least two other council members.

The city's current ordinance already restricts smoking in indoor common areas of shared housing, such as laundry or community rooms, but not inside private living spaces. The new law bans smoking inside private residences that share at least one wall with another unit, such as duplexes, apartments and condominiums. It doesn't affect residents of single-family homes.

In crafting the ordinance, police met with managers of 16 large apartment complexes, none of whom objected to the changes, Police Chief Pat Williams said. Many already prohibit smoking.

No speakers objected to the changes Monday. However, the North Bay Association of Realtors raised concerns in a letter.

"The ordinance would prohibit property owners from using their property for an otherwise lawful activity," wrote Stephen Liebling, chairman of the group's governmental relations committee. "In practical effect, this could mean the exclusion of smokers from purchasing condos in the city of Petaluma."

Councilman Chris Albertson raised questions about a condo owner's private property rights but said he was satisfied the ordinance passes legal muster.

Petaluma resident Robert Caruso said that in his four- to five-mile walks each day, he is forced to cross the street to avoid "unpleasant and unhealthy" smoke.

"They're blowing smoke at what is the real issue," he said of any opponents. "It's a public health issue."

The ordinance shrinks smoking zones further from a 2009 tightening of the law that banned smoking in city parks.

Smoking also now will be banned at bus stops and taxi stands, outdoor dining and recreation areas, public open spaces and parking lots, business entryways and at public events, except where there are designated smoking areas. It will require business owners to more closely monitor cigarettes and keep sales displays out of the reach of children.

The ordinance defines the increasingly popular "electronic cigarettes," which emit not smoke but a vapor, as a smoking implement covered by the new law.

Beginning early next year, hotels and motel rooms will be required to be smoke-free. Lodging operators didn't object to the proposed 80 percent requirement. No one from the industry spoke at Monday's meeting when that rule was expanded to include all rooms.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

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