Council finally listens to constituent concerns on smoking ban!

So, amazingly, the Council did not do as I predicted yesterday and just let Barbara Killey get away with this ignoring the instruction to exempt bars. Not that she was reprimanded or anything, but they actually did not pass her legislation.

Killey’s further attempts to explain the fire safety concerns were ludicrous – she clarified what she was told by the Fire Marshal – that the concern is that people should not be blocking a radius of 5 feet from the center of a door. How this translates into a necessary minimum of 5 feet from any door or window is completely unclear. Henry Chang responded with the common sense statement “To me, 5 feet, 2 feet, whatever. If people block the door and people want to get out, they move. If people want to get in, they move.” Well said.

Henry Chang proposed an amendment that would exempt bars from outdoor smoking restrictions, and Pat Kernighan said that she was also willing to exempt bars from the outdoor smoking prohibition, but with different language than Chang offered, and suggested a reasonable compromise specifying that smoke should not be blowing into the the bar.

When Jane Brunner questioned staff further about the 5 foot rule, Ms. Killey continued to push for it, saying that, in her experience, a provision of “reasonable distance” was not enforceable, which is why it was necessary to pass the 25 foot ban that currently applies to all businesses except for bars. According to Ms. Killey, compliance with the 25 foot rule has been nearly universal.

Nancy Nadel put up only weak protest, saying “Restaurants and bars did not lose business when we banned it; it is a red herring for smokers.” Actually, it’s a red herring for people who want to expand outdoor smoking restrictions, since nobody who spoke at the meeting (including myself) suggested that the 10 foot limit would hurt revenues – we said that it would be unsafe. Ms. Nadel is welcome to repeat as often as she likes that “It is an oxymoron to feel safe while smoking,” but for those who actually stand out on Oakland’s streets, there is a very real difference between potential future health consequences and immediate physical assault.

The anti-tobacco lobby appeared willing to concede the bars, but would not let up on golf courses. Those who spoke offered no arguments for why a bar restriction was necessary, opting instead to ask only that the Council adopt “the strongest language possible” for their ordinance.

But they were not ready to give up on golf courses. Serena Chen’s lengthy speech focused on the teenagers who were unable to be present at the meeting since they had homework to do (hey! so did I!), and informed us that her team of teenage narcs has done research on the issue and learned that 1 cigar is the equivalent of the entire pack of cigarettes. Several of the students apparently want to take up golf, but can’t because of all the secondhand smoke clouding the golf courses. Okay. This appears to be the new party line on this front. Nancy Nadel told the Trib something similar last week, and several the anti-smoking speakers complained about the poison of cigars preventing young people from enjoying golf courses, with one saying “I’m not a golfer myself because of the smoking that happens on golf courses.”

Um…okay. I applaud any citizen efforts to become better informed, especially the efforts of young people who are too often disengaged from government. I would encourage these advocates to expand their research efforts into fieldwork, and try maybe visiting a golf course to see what they’re actually like. I’m not much of a golfer myself either (although I do enjoy the driving range), but my limited experience with the game has suggested to me that it is not exactly a close quarters type of environment. Unless a smoker is part of one’s own party, the danger of exposure to secondhand cigar smoke appears to my admittedly untrained and unscientific eye to be quite minimal.

A lengthy debate over whether or not the Council had or had not voted to ban smoking on golf courses culminated in a hilariously snide comment from Nancy Nadel, who, in response to Igancio De La Fuente’s question “Are we clear?” snapped “We’re clear on who the city attorney is representing.” In the end, however, she got her way and there will theoretically be no cigars on city owned golf courses from now on.

While I continue to be frustrated with Oakland’s City Council for passing yet another law that they know will be unenforceable, and to the extent that it is enforced, will be a terrible waste of limited police resources, I am very happy to see that after months of discussion, they finally agreed to make some small concessions in the interest of public safety that constituents had been begging for. So cheers to Ignacio De La Fuente for requesting reconsideration two weeks ago, cheers to Pat Kernighan and Henry Chang for not letting staff get away with ignoring Council instructions, cheers to Larry Reid for being the Council’s voice of reason throughout this entire process, and cheers to Jean Quan, Jane Brunner, and even Nancy Nadel for voting last night to make a reasonable concession to an industry where most business happens late at night so that patrons do not have to stand far from security.