City council's not blowing smoke --- members vote 4-1 to restrict smoking in outdoor locations

(September 22, 2011)

Lighting up in the Orchard City just got a little trickier.

At the Campbell City Council meeting on Sept. 20, the council approved an ordinance that prohibits smoking within outdoor dining areas and public recreational facilities. The city council also directed Campbell staff to research the possibility of establishing a tobacco retailer's license, which would be aimed at curbing the sale of tobacco to minors.

The item elicited more than an hour of public comment and council discussion before the final 4-1 vote was taken. More than 30 people attended the meeting, several of them wearing T-shirts that read "Live Work Play, Be Tobacco Free."

Vanessa Marvin, a representative of the American Lung Association and Healthy Campbell Coalition, said that both of the public health-focused organizations she belongs to strongly support the strengthening of anti-smoking policies.

"We're really excited to see that you're taking steps to protect Campbell residents from deadly secondhand smoke and urge you to vote yes on this ordinance and to consider the tobacco retailer licensing ordinance," Marvin said to the council.

She added that through community outreach conducted by the Healthy Campbell Coalition, she has spoken with numerous residents and gathered local opinions on the proposed ordinance.

"We did speak to residents at farmers markets, we went to the Hamann Park National Night Out, the Westchester Park block party, and not all but overwhelmingly [most] residents were really supportive of this and urged you to move forward on this issue," Marvin said.

Many of the people Marvin talked with couldn't make it to the council meeting, but she provided the councilmen with a large pile of endorsement papers signed by supportive residents.

Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib also spoke to the council and commended them for tackling tobacco and smoking.

"I want to applaud you and your staff for developing this wonderful draft ordinance on prohibiting smoking in outdoor dining and parks," Fenstersheib said. "This is a great effort on the part of the city of Campbell."

He also reminded the council and the public that this issue comes down to majority rule.

"Just remember that 10 percent of our population smokes. The number is low but still not great," Fenstersheib said. "But that means 90 percent of the people don't smoke, so there are a lot of people in those restaurants that don't want to be exposed to secondhand smoke."

He also had some good news for everyone at the meeting. According to Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County was awarded a total of $6.9 million from the federal government to use for tobacco prevention efforts.

The city of Campbell can have $40,000 of those funds, but the money has to be used by March 2012.

"We will give you all the support that you need, but we need you to do this before March," Fenstersheib said.

After closing the public hearing, the city council weighed the different aspects of the proposed ordinance. Mayor Jason Baker was in favor of prohibiting smoking in outdoor dining areas and public recreational facilities, but expressed a concern about another problem that might result from doing so.

"We might be creating an unenforceable ordinance and an unintentional litter problem," Baker said.

He explained that although he would like to prevent everyone from smoking in parks, it just isn't possible, and that by banning it and eliminating all of the ashtrays in the process, the city might end up with a litter hazard on its hands.

Councilman Jeff Cristina, who cast the sole "no" vote on the issue, felt that the ordinance would force people out of Campbell.

"This frustrates me a bit," Cristina said. "I would hate to see Katie Bloom's, or an establishment like that, have no one outside."

Vice Mayor Mike Kotowski provided the opposite view.

"I would like to see a big sign over the freeway that's says, 'Welcome to Campbell, a smoke-free city,' " Kotowski said, garnering applause from several members of the audience.

Councilman Evan Low agreed that an aggressive approach against smoking would best fit the city.

"I would like to see Campbell be the strongest in terms of the tobacco retailer permit, in looking at ways to have funds to do enforcement and to also prevent tobacco use not only among young people but also to prevent tobacco," Low said.

The city council will need to approve a second reading of the ordinance at a future city council meeting, and the issue of the tobacco retailer's license will be researched by staff and brought back to council at a later date.

Silicon Valley Mercury News