Group seeks to change Palo Alto smoking ordinance | January 27, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 27, 2012

Group seeks to change Palo Alto smoking ordinance

Neighborhoods can receive small grants to promote awareness, advocacy

by Sue Dremann

On the heels of a toughened smoking ordinance adopted in Mountain View Tuesday, Breathe California, a San Jose tobacco-prevention organization, is looking to Palo Alto as the next stage of its campaign to reduce second-hand smoke.

The organization hopes neighborhood groups can help, and it's willing to fund them to do so, CEO and President Margo Leathers Sidener said during a community meeting Tuesday night.

A new ordinance could prohibit smoking in all public areas, including sidewalks, parking lots and garages, streets, private and public outdoor recreational areas and within the interior of apartments and condominiums and in the common areas of such dwellings. It could also require a 20-plus-foot no-smoking buffer around all areas where smoking is prohibited.

The City of Palo Alto has already considered potential changes to toughen its smoking ordinance. Last June, the City Council's Policy and Services Committee directed city staff to explore a new program to require all tobacco retailers to be licensed annually to ensure compliance with not selling tobacco to minors. A police sting operation in spring 2010 found that half of retailers approached sold tobacco to minors. Ten percent of children in Santa Clara County are smokers, Sidener said, citing a survey.

"We want a law to include a provision to take a license away from retailers that sell to minors. To us at Breathe California, the most important thing is we need something with teeth in it," she said.

Palo Alto was a leader in the 1970s in implementing a smoking ordinance but has lagged in recent years, Sidener said. It hasn't taken action since the June meeting.

Palo Alto would be eligible to receive more than $51,000 from the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department if it were to implement a tobacco-prevention initiative. But that funding ends March 18, she said.

So Breathe California is trying to engage public awareness through neighborhoods to help spur the ordinance. Interested neighborhoods could receive $500 to $1,000 to host meetings, add messages to their websites, issue mailings and host talks. Some grants go as high as $6,000, she said.

"We need to come up with a platform to tell the city what the community thinks," Sidener said.

But with so many pressing neighborhood issues, Sidener said the push would probably have to come from affected individuals rather than neighborhoods taking up the policy as an official stance.

University South Neighborhood Association President Elaine Meyer said she took notice after a neighbor living in a condominium told Meyer she would probably sell her unit because the people downstairs are smokers, and the ventilation system carried smoke into her condo.

"She was terribly upset about the smoking," Meyer said. "It opened my eyes to let people know what's happening."

Smoke can have particularly adverse effects on people with chronic illnesses, the elderly and children, said Crescent Park resident Terry Trumbull, a longtime Breathe California volunteer and San Jose State University environmental studies lecturer.

Trumbull said that at one senior-housing facility where he lectured the residents organized to change the rules, and smoking within the units is now banned.

"The private-property argument doesn't hold much water if there's a common ventilation system," he said.

In most cases, apartment landlords aren't likely to confront residents who smoke, but landlords who have smoke-free buildings have found advantages. Units have lower cleaning costs, he said.

Sidener said Santa Clara County has the lowest smoking rate in the state. Only 10 percent of the population smokes.

"It doesn't make sense on a fairness level to allow them to affect everyone else," she said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Fine. Arrest me for smoking on a sidewalk in downtown Palo Alto on a Friday or Saturday night. I hope each property owner in Palo Alto is prepared to cough up $1,000,000 each in an assessment to pay off the judgement I get when I take it to court. Doesn't the City Council have more important things to do than to financially destroy the city?

Like this comment
Posted by Midlander
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2012 at 6:29 pm

I'm a non-smoker. But asking the city to ban people from smoking in their own apartments or condos is going way too far for me.

I understand that some landowners or condominium associations may decide to ban smoking in their building. That's fine, especially in cases where smoking from some tenants has bothered others. But there may also be cases where a majority (or all!) are smokers and want to be able to smoke in their homes. That should be OK too. I don't think the city should get in the middle of this.

Legislating on what people can do in their own homes is a Big Deal, and I think we need to be very cautious.

Like this comment
Posted by Tired-of-Special-Interests-Jerking-PA-Around
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Another special interest group that doesn't even live in Palo Alto coming to town, perhaps even passing money around to Council Members, to take away people's rights to do what they want. It's only a matter of time before some group shows up and demands that the Council pass a law that restricts the size of people's homes, the amount of money that they can make, and the number of children that they can have.

So many groups think that they can use the name of Palo Alto to advance their causes. Time to breathe free of other peoples' "holier-than-thou" agendas.

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Posted by ron
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Jim it is You who is threatening to financially destroy the city when you take the issue to court. I'm a non smoker and I think that if the smoke bothers someone else (as in an apt with common ventilation system) then it should be settled between the tenants if possible. But in the open and not in the vicinity of anyone else people should be able to smoke. Oh and make sure you pick up your own butts!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm

I am a non smoker but I feel that some of these rules are going too far.

There is nothing wrong with smoking in the open air as long as it is not near a children's play area or something. I can't see it fair to stop people smoking in their homes unless there are shared ventilations, etc. But these issues should be home associations problems not city problems.

I think we have more pressing issues here in Palo Alto than smoking. If someone in an apartment has a problem with neighbors smoking then the apartment management need to step in, not the city.


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Posted by Waste of time!!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2012 at 10:18 pm

As though our City Council doesn't have enough to do right now!!! Perhaps we should include these ridiculous overkill bans on the City's list of top five priorities - way above the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Infrastructure Commissions!!!

I don't smoke but if people are stupid enough to do so and give themselves lung cancer, it's their life let them do it!! Here's a group of people micromanaging other peoples lives for them!!!!

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 27, 2012 at 3:29 am

Ten percent of children in Santa Clara County are smokers? Is that a pack a day or one puff ever in one's life? Is a 17-year-old still called a child?

"Smoke can have particularly adverse effects on people..." At what level? It's one thing to smell it and be annoyed, but another to be immersed in it. Should we outlaw all annoying smells? Or just the lethal ones like peanut butter, certain perfumes, and those we blame on the dog?

Like this comment
Posted by JT
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2012 at 3:59 am

The county is dangling $51,000 out there for the city to grab? We can't pass up a bribe like that!!!!

Let's take this further and ban smoking in private homes and cars.

Let's ban movies that show people smoking.

Hell, let's prosecute people who even think about smoking.

Or those who only smoke after sex. Does anybody have sex in Palo Alto anymore? (Don't censor that comment you idiots at Palo Alto Online).

Let's prosecute those who have relatives in other states who smoke. Surely, we Palo Altans can nag them into stopping, and it should be a crime if we haven't done enough nagging.

And who is behind this? The county government. And that's Liz Kniss, the public health advocate (a nurse, don't you know) who is termed out as a county supervisor so she is running for city council. I kind of think of her as the nag-in-chief. It'll be fun to see her explain this in a council candidates debate.

Yes, council needs to push the infrastructure improvements aside and start working on this smoking ban right now.

BTW, make sure that we don't ban marijuana smoking anywhere. Yes, it's worse for your lungs, but it's more politically correct.

Like this comment
Posted by Jonnie
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2012 at 9:04 am

I will vote for a ban on smoking for apartments and condos that share a common ventilation system. My brother lives in a condo complex and shares the same air with other tenants. He has small children and his wife has asthma. It is a real issue when you can't breathe healthy air. During the cold winter months he has to open all of the windows to air out his condo every night. There is no landlord for their condos as they are all owner occupied. Having a ban through the city seems to be the only option.

If someone is smoking downtown or on the streets it is easy to walk away from the smoke, but in a living situation with shared ventilation you have no choice but to breathe the second hand smoke.

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Posted by Martha
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2012 at 9:13 am

Smoking and chewing tobacco were proven killers decades ago.

One way or another, we all pay for picking up cigarette butts, the cleaning bills, and the massive medical costs of those disabled by second-hand smoke.


I fully support whatever it takes to ban tobacco use.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 27, 2012 at 10:57 am

> Ten percent of children in Santa Clara County are smokers?

Could be. Santa Clara County Health Officials have previously claimed that 10% of the County's children have attempted suicide. Maybe smoking was considered as an "act of suicide" by these bureaucrats.

Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Guess smokers can stop paying taxes.

Guess PA Utilities can raise raises again to off-set declining sales tax revenues.

Guess the state can cut more services due to declining sales tax revenues.

Guess the city will ask for ANOTHER bond issue to pay for enforecement costs.

I am SO tired of the nanny state!

Like this comment
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2012 at 1:45 pm

As a former smoker, I think government needs to stay out of peoples' homes. I've watched two loved ones die of lung cancer... and there are still moments I crave a cigarette. No one smokes because they want to bother YOU; they smoke because they are addicted to something said to be more addictive than heroin. It's hard to quit, and until you've seen yourself try and fail to quit smoking more than once or twice, please spare me your moralizing. Do we really want to return to the days of "Blue Laws"? _

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2012 at 6:19 pm

I wish that they would ban my neighbor from smoking. I hate having to breathe in his secondhand smoke simply because he feels a right to blow it our way.

BTW, I have no problem with a ban. After all, we have noise ordinances. Why shouldn't we have other ordinances that protect us from cancer (not to mention terrible sinus headaches).

Like this comment
Posted by Koa
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Add another activity to the list of things (behind having a bbq grill) that are against the law in Palo Alto if you are not a multimillionaire homeowner. Hell, even they aren't allowed to use their fireplace whenever they want to.

I accept no health arguments regarding the danger of passing second-hand smoke on the sidewalk until we have banned SUVs from our streets. If you don't believe that's are a more pressing health concern, consider this: would you rather be locked in a garage for 6 hours with an idling Suburban or someone smoking cigarettes. One of them will kill you.

Like this comment
Posted by a menace
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2012 at 8:04 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2012 at 8:44 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by $51,000
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2012 at 8:47 pm

$51,000 wont even cover the staff time to think about bringing this to the City Council. This is crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 28, 2012 at 6:01 am

Smoking in buildings with common ventilation systems is a deadly menace and should be outlawed. No one is trying to outlaw smoking in private houses. Those who are dumb or self destructive enough to smoke in their own house are welcome to it.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2012 at 9:07 am

I thought editor's rules for PA Online discussion threads excluded racist comments like the ones from the people who signed on as "Menace" and "Outside Observer."

Perhaps it's time for a story about "Racism in Palo Alto."

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Posted by some guy
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2012 at 9:42 am

It bugs me when I'm walking down the sidewalk and someone comes out of a doorway and starts walking in front of me, and suddenly I'm smoking a cigarette; someone else's cigarette. I resent seeing cigarette butts *everywhere*. They'll always be there, because there are too many to pick up. Cigarette smokers are the biggest damn slobs. But the number one thing that bugs me about cigarette smokers is they way they always hold their cigarette so that the smoke blows into your face instead of theirs. They're the ones who want to smoke the damn thing, why don't they have it blowing in their own face?

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Posted by Susan
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2012 at 10:10 am

I agree with Daniel, if the home is a single private home then they should be able to smoke if they choose to. But, if it is a shared ventilation system like in apartments and condos that is a much greater concern.

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Posted by Angelo_Frank
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Angelo_Frank is a registered user.

I once read somewhere that smoking is safer than fascism...

Quite true.