LA council to consider all-encompassing citywide smoking ban

The Los Altos City Council is scheduled to consider an ordinance March 13 to ban smoking in the city.

The proposed ordinance expands an existing no-smoking statute that covers public recreation areas and their parking lots, and the Los Altos Civic Center. The proposed law would extend the ban to all places visited by the public, including privately owned areas, enclosed and unenclosed.

The city defines “public places” as all areas, publicly or privately owned, that are accessible by the public, regardless of payment for entry or age requirement. Examples include places of employment, offices, service areas, outdoor dining areas, parking lots, streets, sidewalks, plazas and open spaces.

The proposed ordinance also prohibits smoking in individual units of multiunit residences as well as indoor and outdoor common areas of those units, such as patios, lobbies, gym facilities, cooking areas and courtyards.

Under the new ordinance, smoking would be permitted only in private, detached, single-family homes, their respective yards and in private vehicles. The ordinance includes all types of smoking products, including tobacco, e-cigarettes, vaporizers and marijuana.

The proposal’s origins date back to October, when the council considered an ordinance that would prohibit smoking in outdoor dining areas. Council members requested that city staff expand the ordinance to include service areas, entryways, multiunit housing and public events, a comprehensive effort to limit exposure to secondhand smoke.

If the council adopts the ordinance, the city will partner with Breathe California of the Bay Area to provide public outreach and education to residents as the primary means of enforcement. Breathe California operates a Secondhand Smoke Helpline for those wishing to learn more about the ordinance or secondhand smoke, or reporting a violation.

City officials said they have been working with the business community to understand the implications of such an ordinance. The Los Altos Village Association, Los Altos Property Owners Downtown and the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce have provided feedback on the proposed ordinance.

“The groups are generally supportive of banning smoking in some areas, such as outdoor dining areas and entryways,” said Sarah Henricks, a management analyst fellow working on the ordinance. “However, they have expressed some reservations about the possibility of alienating current or potential employees, customers or visitors by completely banning smoking. They have suggested designated smoking areas in downtown and at public events, or the allowance of smoking in alleyways, loading dock areas and back doors.”

The city of Los Altos also hosted an online Open City Hall survey at to gather feedback. The survey generated nearly 90 responses, generally in favor of enacting a wider smoking ban. But one respondent cautioned that unintended consequences could result from such an all-encompassing ban.

“There already is a smoking law that prevents people from smoking in bars and restaurants as well as within 30 feet of any establishment that serves food,” wrote resident James Gibbs. “If you are to tell a smoker – they are not welcome to walk and smoke/vape on the sidewalks regardless if they are abiding by the current law … then they are essentially being told that they are not welcome in the downtown area. That would have an impact on businesses, not to mention it would be discriminatory. … Smoking/secondhand smoke is small in comparison to exhaust from vehicles either idling or driving by. I assure you that there are far more vehicles than there are smokers in Los Altos.”

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