March 23, 2018
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RP aims to curb exposure to secondhand smoke

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
January 12, 2018

The City of Rohnert Park is considering joining many other jurisdictions in the county who have already amended their municipal codes to make using tobacco and other smoke, as well as electronic cigarettes, more stringent in relation to how the secondhand smoke impacts others. 

The Rohnert Park City Council first heard the staff report on the proposed amendment at the Nov. 28 city council meeting. The proposal was initiated by both concerned citizens, as well as the city who felt that the current tobacco ordinance did not adequately take into consideration the secondhand smoke issue. The title of the new ordinance, municipal code chapter 8.32, would be amended from “Use of Tobacco and Electronic Cigarettes” to “Smoking and Secondhand Smoke” and would be applied to all types of secondhand smoke, including all tobacco products, e-cigarettes, and marijuana. The major purposes of the amendment are to limit exposure of secondhand smoke, protect the public from smoking and related litter, and promote a healthy environment.

“The most significant change is that currently what’s on the books now, is called a tobacco use ordinance,” says Jeff Beiswenger, Rohnert Park Planning Manager. “So it’s really focused on tobacco products, whereas the other ordinances in Sonoma County like Cotati and Windsor are focused on secondhand smoke. That was really the direction we got from the city council when we talked to them earlier in 2017. The city council thought it was a pretty good idea to focus on secondhand smoke versus tobacco because obviously there’s more than just tobacco that creates secondhand smoke. That seemed to be a much better approach.” 

A significant alteration of the current tobacco ordinance is that the new regulations would encompass all residents in multi-family buildings, which currently do not fall under the regulations. Residents are therefore often subjected to the unhealthy smoke in their common areas or seeping through adjacent walls, windows and vents from unit to unit. The amendments would not only include multi-family buildings under the law, but also allow for civil action by private parties that are negatively affected by the secondhand smoke.

“The way that the current ordinance is written, it’s not really clear to how it applies to condominiums, because condominiums are individually owned,” says Beiswenger. 

The new regulations would prohibit smoking in multi-family units and condominiums. Initially it was under consideration to allow 25 percent of the apartments to be smoking units, but the city is leaning towards having all multi-family units be non-smoking across the board. 

“As the [amended] ordinance is currently written you wouldn’t be able to smoke in what is defined as a multi-family dwelling unit – anything that has a common wall,” says Beiswenger. “It could be an apartment, or it could be a condo. You would not be able to smoke in your condo because the smoke could travel through the wall, through the vents or through the windows. So it’s addressing those off-site impacts that you can’t get away from because smoke travels and drifts.” 

Another new change will be prohibition of smoking in all public places, recreation areas and vehicles owned by the city. Previously smoking was only prohibited in playground areas, but the amendments would cover all city-owned public property.

The city council is still evaluating ideas presented by the public regarding the amendments. Therefore, the issue has been temporarily tabled until the end of January or February pending further analysis before the city council will vote on and possibly adopt the regulations. Concerned citizens are still encouraged to submit comments to the city.