Alameda’s Invisible Non-Smoking Ordinance: Walking on Park, Webster Sidewalks Still Toxic

Nine months after Alameda’s Secondhand Smoke Ordinance took effect on January 2, 2012, nonsmokers (90% of the population) and people with asthma or lung disease should find the Park and Webster Street commercial districts and our shopping centers smoke-free and safe for working lungs, right?

Not yet.

The ordinance—still functionally unimplemented— is almost invisible. 

With no official city signs posted and very few in businesses, smokers still light up every day on commercial district sidewalks, at bus stops, and at street fairs—completely unaware of Alameda’s no-smoking ordinance–violating a law they do not even know exists.

Linda Hudson, my wife and business partner since 1988, has chronic asthma and serious allergies, including tobacco. The presence or absence of tobacco smoke determines where we can safely dine and shop without compromising her health—or mine. For Linda, going out is safer now: At least now I can watch a baseball game at a sports bar and not have to worry about tobacco smoke.”

Since January, Linda and I have encountered smokers most of the times we have been on the Park Street business district sidewalks. Many are visitors who are completely unaware of Alameda’s “invisible” ordinance. Some are local employees.

A few smokers are deliberately violating the ordinance. (They say they do not care about people with compromised breathing when I ask.) Last week I encountered 5 smokers in three blocks on Park inside of 20 minutes: three were “protesting” the law.

Clearly, the ordinance has not yet been adequately implemented–by either business district association or by the city. Only a few individual businesses display “No Smoking” signs and there are no city signs on any of Alameda’s business district streets or sidewalks. Amazingly enough, none were required–except in outdoor areas where firms like Peet’s or Starbuck’s serve food or drinks.

Despite overwhelming public support before and after the ordinance passed–no one is promoting our (supposedly) smoke-free commercial areas to the 90% of customers who do not smoke. Why?

Terri Wright, Senior Management Analyst with the City of Alameda, and co-author of the ordinance, said, “Public signs were not part of the ordinance…the city was hoping to implement it ‘organically’ by building a consensus for implementing social change.” The business associations have declined or not responded to city offers to install public signs—even when funded by grant money. (Wright has heard a lot from “vocal non-smoking libertarians,” as well as smokers.)

A few signs-“prototypes”-went up Monday.

But Wright and the city are also responding to complaints from nonsmokers. On Monday, September 24, the city posted a  few “prototypye” signs on Park to see what looked acceptable. It’s a start…Police Chief Mike Noonan told me his officers are enforcing the smoking ordinance when violations are reported but they cannot always respond in time to catch violators, given reduced patrol resources and other priorities.

Installing prominent no-smoking public and business signage in our “C-designated”commercial districts is long overdue. Smoking is illegal on all commercial district and shopping center sidewalks and within “20 feet of doors, windows, and other openings into enclosed areas” of businesses. Puffing is illegal in ticket lines; also at bus stops, street fairs, and concerts, and in any “public walkway or hall areas that connect retail or professional establishments” in shopping centers.

Here are the key link if you want to take action:

Look for more signage—it’s available for free to the business associations from the city— at Alameda’s upcoming Webster Street’s Neptune Beach  Community Celebration October 6-7 and the Classic Car Show on Park October 13.  City-approved signs and informational flyers are here. 

If you see violators, let them know about the ordinance. If they do not stop smoking, call the Alameda Police Department at 510-337-8340 — from a safe place.

Or contact Serena Chen of the local American Lung Association:

Serena Chen | Regional Advocacy Director
American Lung Association in California
424 Pendleton Way
Oakland, CA 94621
Phone: 510.982.3191
Fax: 510.638.8984 |

Prominent public signage and enforcement of the no-smoking ban are long overdue. Lungs should be safe in Alameda’s commercial districts—something Mayor Gilmore and our City Council promised us in 2011. Park Street, Webster Street, and our shopping centers should not be toxic zones for walkers, shoppers, diners, people with asthma or lung disease, and children.

Don’t make us hold our breath.