Expanded cafe smoking ban explored by city

Fee set for expansion of outdoor seating

Following up on a code amendment that will loosen restrictions on outdoor cafes downtown, the Del Mar City Council on Aug. 4 determined a fee for allowing such increased seating.

But an alternate discussion at the meeting has raised concerns that increased seating might equate to increased smoking.

In letter to the City Council, Rick Ehrenfeld, a member of the city's Planning Commission, said he was concerned about health issues that might result from additional outdoor seating areas. Currently city codes prohibit smoking in a designated contiguous portion of a restaurant of not less than 50 percent.

"Smoking will be permitted at up to one-half of the tables in a sidewalk cafe," wrote Ehrenfeld. "I see this as a health hazard and a public nuisance. This area is differentiated from a private restaurant patio, where a customer could choose to sit, knowing that smoking was permitted. As a shared-use of public space, I feel that smoking should be prohibited in 100 percent of the tables."

Ehrenfeld's letter included an article from Science Daily, which referenced a 2007 Stanford University report on how smoking affects air quality at sidewalk cafes that concluded that a non-smoker smoker sitting a few feet downward from a smoldering cigarette is likely to be exposed to substantial levels of contaminated air for brief periods of time. In the study, researchers used portable electronic monitors to make precise measurements of toxic airborne particles.

Last month the council approved more outdoor cafes for the downtown area and the ordinance includes a provision that the outdoor seating will be on a "shared-use" basis, meaning the seating could not only be used for restaurant guests, but also by the public at large. The ordinance also loosens regulations for additional required parking for the seating, something that did not sit well with several residents last month, but nonetheless was included in the plan.

This latest concern interested council members enough, that they have requested staff to look into further options for protecting diners from smoking, mentioning possibly expanding the city's current smoking restrictions.

Smoking ban on the books

In February of 2006, the Del Mar City Council banned smoking at its beach and parks and all access areas to those areas such as parking lots, roads, pathways and street ends. Currently only one Del Mar restaurant with an outdoor dining area is smoke-free by choice, the Del Mar Plaza's II Fornaio. Solana Beach has one restaurant as well, Pizza Nova on Highway 101.

When asked what leeway the city had in expanding its ban, interim city attorney Kimberly Johnson told the council they had the right to expand anywhere in the public right-of-way.

"Either we recognize our existing ordinance applies or change the wording," said Councilman Henry Abarbanel.

"It's worth a discussion," said Mayor Dave Druker, who requested the issue be placed on an upcoming council agenda.

Just three San Diego County municipalities have smoke-free outdoor dining ordinances, Chula Vista, El Cajon and Encinitas.

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