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    Controversy arises as Albany steps up smoking ban

    By Linda (Linjun) Fan

    Controversy rises among residents as the City Council of Albany puts forward an ordinance Monday to ban smoking on Albany’s major commercial street and other outdoor places.

    The ordinance, called Smoking Pollution Control, bans smoking on sidewalks of Solano Avenue, Albany’s primary business area. It also  bans smoking on sidewalks adjacent to schools, parks, ball fields, and other public recreational areas in the city.

    Several speakers at the Council meeting denounced the ban as unnecessary.

    “It’s a divisive and expensive solution to a problem that has not demonstrated to exist, ” said Albany resident Joseph Foscone.

    Foscone said that he is allergic to smoking, but he hasn’t been bothered by smokers on Solano Avenue because he seldom sees them.

    Four of the five members of the Council voted for the ordinance, while Councilmember Jwell Okawachi objected to it.

    With the ban people would just walk a few steps away from Solano and smoke on nearby sidewalks of residential streets, she said.

    Enforcement of the ordinance could be troublesome. Many said that it wouldn’t be cost-effective for the city police to impose the smoking ban.

    “Our police officers really have better things to do than to chase cigarette butts up and down Solano Avenue, ” said resident Brian Parsley.

    The draft ordinance encourages all residents to enforce the ban, stopping violations and seeking relief.  However, a number of people were afraid that it could cause unnecessary disputes and fights on the street.

    The Council decided to delete the provisions of private enforcement from the ordinance after hearing from the public.

    Putting up non-smoking signs could also be a headache, according to Assistant City Administrator Judy Lieberman. She is not sure now where to post the signs and how many would be posted.

    The City of Berkeley passed a similar ordinance banning smoking in its commercial districts last month. Since the east part of Solano Avenue is under the jurisdiction of Berkeley, Lieberman said that Albany would follow Berkeley’s suit after it puts up non-smoking signage on the street.

    It’s not clear whether smoking would be banned on San Pablo Avenue, another commercial street of the city. San Pablo is not specifically listed as a prohibited area in the ordinance. But a provision says that smoking be banned within a reasonable distance of 25 feet from any entrance of a smoking-free place. Most sidewalks of San Pablo would be within that distance from a store entrance. (17-1.4 b)

    John Schmidt runs a bar on Solano Avenue and sells tobacco there for decades. After the State of California banned indoor smoking in 1998, Schmidt built a patio in front of the bar where customers can smoke.  He was worried when he heard about the proposed smoking ban.

    “My business could be destroyed by this ordinance,” Schmidt said.

    He petitioned at city meetings and gathered nearly two hundred signatures to oppose the legislation.

    The Pub, run by John Schmidt , has existed on Solano Avenue for three decades. Photo by Linda (Linjun) Fan.

    The effort paid back. Bars in the city are still allowed to keep their outdoor smoking areas, as long as they don’t serve food there, according to the revised ordinance.

    Ira Sharenow, a long-time advocate for smoking legislation who proposed the ordinance to the Council last September,  was disappointed with the result.

    “This ordinance still allows smoking on Solano Avenue, ” said Sharenow. “I have worked on many many drafts of smoking-free ordinance, but I do not understand this draft. “

    Albany Mayor Robert Lieber said that the legislation would benefit public health, even though it might need some adjustments in future.

    Some disagreed.

    “This ordinance is not about health policy, but about governmental regulatory excess, ” said Francesco Papalia, an Albany resident.

    The Council will review the ordinance for the second time next month, and the ordinance would take effect 30 days after the review.

    Click here to read the full text of the ordinance.

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