Folsom considers smoking ban in apartments and restaurant patios

Since California passed a landmark law two decades ago banning smoking in enclosed workplaces, cities and counties have expanded restrictions, and Folsom leaders are now poised to ban smoking in apartments and in outdoor seating of restaurants and bars.

Statewide, 129 communities restrict smoking in outdoor seating of restaurants and bars and 39 ban smoking in apartments, according to Maria Bernabe, spokeswoman with the American Lung Association.

The Folsom City Council on Tuesday night directed staff to draft new amendments to the city’s 20-year-old smoking ordinance to impose those bans. The City Council began amending the ordinance last year with restrictions on smoking in recreation areas.

Officials said they are responding to growing concerns over the effects of secondhand smoke.

A majority of council members indicated they were inclined to support the expanded smoking ban after hearing a report from the city attorney about how businesses handle smoking and comments from the public. Several people spoke in support of restrictions, while the only opposition came from the Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley.

However, the association’s executive director, Jim Lofgren, said the rental industry is moving toward nonsmoking buildings and the association’s sample leases include a nonsmoking clause.

Mercy Housing, the nation’s largest private provider of affordable rental housing, is moving toward a smoking ban in all of the 47 states where it owns property, said spokeswoman Andrea Palten. The Denver nonprofit is implementing the ban in newer properties, including its 138-unit Creekview Manor in Folsom, which banned smoking at the end of last year. Older properties will be phased in.

The organization made the decision for health and safety reasons, Palten said. Smoking is the top reason for property costs related to fires and renovations needed when smokers leave an apartment, she said.

Creekview Manor resident Alison Atkins has repeatedly addressed the Folsom City Council about the need to ban smoking in apartments. She said residents should not have to breathe smoke that flows through air ducts and into their apartments.

“It is poison,” she told the City Council. “It’s a matter of life and death.”

The Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley does not dispute the risks of smoke, but simply would prefer to allow property owners to regulate, Lofgren said.

Dustan Droogmans, a manager at Coffee Republic, said his employees have been able to allow smoking on the shop’s patio when it doesn’t offend other customers. People stop smoking or move to the parking lot when asked, he said.

Questions of personal freedom vs. public responsibility are likely to come up as Folsom considers the ban proposals. Already, council members Jeff Starsky and Ernie Sheldon debated along those lines this week.

Starsky said he was worried that the restrictions “would stomp on someone’s civil rights.”

Sheldon, who has asthma, replied that “a smoker doesn’t have a civil right to affect my right to breathe.”

Starsky later said he agreed with Sheldon, that he intensely dislikes smoking, and supports restrictions, even though he worried they contribute to the idea of government as a “nanny state.”

City Attorney Bruce Cline was directed to come up with a proposal that would ban smoking in newly constructed apartments, and phase in a restriction on existing apartments over time. A time frame for a phase-in was not specified.

Councilwoman Kerri Howell, a smoker, wanted to find a way to allow bars and restaurants to keep outdoor smoking areas where food and drinks are not served. However, other council members said they thought such an approach would be unworkable.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.