By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County is considering banning smoking in apartments and condominiums, on county-owned property, in parks, campgrounds and beaches and at many other outdoor public and private areas where people gather.
The ordinance, which seeks to reduce the effects of second-hand smoke, would affect all areas of the county outside city limits and prohibit smoking at public events, such as fairs, festivals, parades, outdoor dining areas and service areas, such as ATMs, bank teller windows, telephones, ticket lines, bus stops and taxi stands.
“There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,” said Lynn Walton, manager of the Healthy Communities section of the Sonoma County Public Health Division.
“It is a toxic chemical, a Class-A carcinogen. That’s why the (proposed) ordinance has the strong protections and provisions that it does.”
The new rules, if approved by the county Board of Supervisors, would represent some of the strongest smoking restrictions in the county, on par with restrictions in Sebastopol and Rohnert Park.
Sonoma County’s 1994 smoking ordinance received an F as an overall tobacco-control grade from the American Lung Association.
At the time, the ordinance was similar to rules adopted in every city or town, except for Windsor and Cloverdale. It bans smoking in public workplaces and public areas.
In late 1994, after voters defeated a state initiative backed by Phillip Morris that sought to rein in smoking bans, a statewide restriction on workplace and restaurant smoking took effect Jan. 1, 1995. Three years later, the state banned smoking in bars.
“We have essentially been denying 85 percent of the population that doesn’t smoke the right to breathe clean air in public places and in their own homes too,” county Supervisor Shirlee Zane said.
She said the proposed changes to the smoking ordinance are long overdue. The effect on the county administration complex in Santa Rosa, where 3,500 people work, would be significant, she said.
“Making it a no-smoking campus is really important,” she said.
With so few people smoking these days, some say the ordinance is a sign of the times.
Jerry Fischman, owner of Birmingham Bed & Breakfast in Kenwood, said his business has a strict no-smoking policy that 99 percent of his lodgers either agree with or accept. He has a small smoking area near a tree toward the front of the property.
“I’m all for it,” said Fischman, who described himself as a “life-long non-smoker.”
Under the new rules, smoking on county property and unincorporated parts of the county and in multi-unit housing would be allowed only in specifically designated areas. These restricted areas would have to be at least 25 feet from an operating doorway, window, vent, recreation areas used by children, playgrounds, tennis courts, pools and other recreational areas.
The ordinance also would ban smoking at public events, including fairs, festivals, parades and farmer’s markets. The Sonoma County Fair already has a no-smoking policy, except for designated areas.
Many county regional parks, such as Hood Mountain, have smoking restrictions because of fire danger, and all nine county playground have a buffer zone around them.
Deanna Allen, 21, of Santa Rosa was smoking near the entrance to the Sonoma County Jail at the county administration complex. Allen, who was there visiting her fiancé, said the new rules were far to restrictive.
“Here especially, they’re going to have issues,” Allen said. “You’ve got, especially like Thursday mornings … there’s like 100 people walking around here, people getting out of jail, people about to turn themselves into jail … people visiting and and they’re just wanting a damn cigarette.”
Stephanie Hoobler, 27, of Cotati who shared a cigarette with Allen, called the restrictions a contradiction.
“Then stop selling cigarettes altogether because it’s not fair,” she said.
County supervisors said they want the health services department to do more outreach with landlords and members of the community before the issue comes before the board Sept. 13.
If approved then, most provisions would go into effect Nov. 12. Restrictions on new multi-housing units would take effect May 12, 2012. And restrictions on existing multi-housing units would go into effect Jan. 12, 2013.
Charlene Harrison of Santa Rosa, a courtroom clerk and former smoker, said she agreed with many of the proposed restrictions, particularly where children are present. But Harrison, who quit smoking four years ago, said she sympathized with smokers.
“It seems a little too strict for me, if I was still smoking,” she said. “If I was a smoker and I wanted to go out to the parking lot and have a cigarette, I would want to be able to do that.”
Michelle House of the Northern California Center for Well Being, a strong advocate of the multi-unit housing restrictions, said she hopes the proposed county ordinance will set an example for cities that have yet to tackle secondhand smoke in apartment buildings.
Only Rohnert Park and Sebastopol have enacted such restrictions. The Sebastopol ordinance takes effect Nov. 1.
“If we are protected in our workplace, should we not be protected where we live?” said House.