WALNUT CREEK -- Walnut Creek is about to be largely smoke-free, even though smokers and others continue to rail against the new secondhand smoke ordinance.
"It's not OK with the residents of Rossmoor," said Debra Freeman a resident of the gated community at a City Council meeting last week. She said she and her neighbors had no idea that this law was even proposed. "We see this as a violation of our constitutional rights and freedom and liberty."
The City Council passed the strict secondhand-smoking ordinance in September, after months of public hearings and meetings on the issue. The council had a final reading of that law last week.
It bans smoking in all multiunit residences, all of downtown, all recreational areas and all commercially zoned properties, and in all public places. The council made an exemption, however, that does not require public or private golf courses to be smoke-free. And it doesn't outlaw smoke from medical marijuana.
The prohibition on smoking in commercial areas such as ATM lines, outdoor dining areas and 25 feet from all buildings goes into effect Oct. 31. For multifamily housing, property managers are required to let their tenants know by Nov. 30, with the ban to go into effect Jan. 29. And downtown and the parks will be smoke-free upon city manager certification, which is expected in January, according to Matt Huffaker, assistant to the city manager.
Since the law passed on a 4-1 vote (with Councilman Justin Wedel voting against it), the city has heard from a lot of people, Huffaker said. Many are property owners who want to understand what the new law means, he said. "We've also received a positive response from the community, with lots of calls expressing appreciation for the new restrictions," he said.
But at the council meeting last week, many people spoke against the prohibitions. Some argued there should be more time for owners of condos and tenants of apartments to find new places to live while others said they didn't have a chance to vote on the issues themselves. This law, however, does not require a vote of residents.
Resident Adele Sylar said while she doesn't like smoke or to be around it, she thinks smokers have a right to their choices. And she questioned whether this is a bit of a class issue, as people with less money often can't afford single-family homes where smoking isn't prohibited.
The law "feels a bit heartless and draconian," she said.
One man said he disagreed that secondhand smoke is more of a threat to public health then BBQ smoke and burned toast, and another commented that pollution from cars is more of a danger.
Others congratulated the council for taking such a tough stance, perhaps the toughest in the county so far, over tobacco smoke.
"One thing that your ordinance will do is reduce the number of people who smoke, and nothing can be better for people than to stop smoking," said Muriel Crawford, who lives in the Mercer condos downtown.
In the end, the City Council decided to make no changes to the law it had discussed and passed in September.
Mayor Cindy Silva said she recognizes this law is difficult for some to accept.
"What we have here is a debate, and it's a tough debate, related to personal rights versus the rights of your next door neighbor ... to not be affected by something you are doing," she said last week. "We have noises ordinances this is no different than that."
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.