Dri Wang has complained for years about the secondhand smoke at her Walnut Creek apartment complex. Her landlords even tried to prohibit a tenant from smoking, but with no city law to back up their request, smoking at her complex continues, she said.
For years Walnut Creek has received a notorious "F" grade from the American Lung Association when it comes to overall tobacco control. But the City Council will consider new regulations at its meeting Tuesday night that could eventually put it in line with other nearby cities that have created tough secondhand smoking rules and bump its F to a C.
If the regulations are approved, Walnut Creek would no longer allow smoking downtown, in commercial areas, at public events and city owned parks as well as recreation and open space areas. Indoor smoking would be banned inside all multifamily residential units and on balconies, patios and near entrances and windows. Designated smoking areas would be allowed.
Wang, who is newly pregnant, says if the city doesn't pass the proposed secondhand smoke ordinance, she will move out of Walnut Creek.
"It gets so bad that I feel like I am the one who is smoking," said Wang, a clinical pharmacist who helps people quit smoking as part of her job.
The proposed regulations are a major step for the city, said Serena Chen, Regional Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association.
"This would make a clear and positive statement from elected officials that they want to protect people where they live," she said. "We are glad to see Walnut Creek step up to the plate."
While the proposed law may seem sweeping, it would still lag behind the laws in neighboring cities such as Martinez and Pleasant Hill, each of which received B grades in the American Lung Association's 2013 State of Tobacco Control Report. Richmond and unincorporated Contra Costa County both have A grades.
The association looks at three criteria when calculating the grades: smoke-free outdoor air, smoke-free housing and reduced sales of tobacco products. Because the new ordinance does not help reduce the sale of tobacco products, Walnut Creek wouldn't be graded higher than a C, Chen said.
"We are hoping that once they realize how simple it is to institute these measures that they do something to reduce tobacco sales to minors because there is a huge threat there," she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking kills about 443,000 people per year in the United States. Of those, about 49,000 people die from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the CDC.
If the law is passed, a complaint would trigger enforcement of the law, said Community Development Director Sandra Meyer. The city would post signs in parks and downtown to serve as public notification and property owners would be required to disclose smoking restrictions to prospective tenants and buyers, she said. Violators could receive fines starting at $100.
Patsy Wilkinson, owner of Crogan's Bar and Grill, said she will comply with the new ordinance but doubts the police have time to deal with enforcement.
"When people drink they smoke ... and they don't mind being with other smokers," she said. "I just don't think it's going to stop people from smoking."
The City Council will review the draft ordinance at its Tuesday meeting, 7 p.m., at 1666 N. Main Street. If the council agrees to move forward, the ordinance should be back for final approval July 16.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.