The Glendale City Council on Tuesday created a last-minute three-tier system regulating smoking in outdoor dining areas — a move that will increase the number of smokers able to be accommodated at some restaurants.
The change to what had initially been agreed to a week earlier was fraught with contention on the dais, with Councilman Dave Weaver, who voted against the amended rules, likening the situation to a “circus.”
According to the changes, which were approved on a narrow 3-2 vote, smokers can sit in 25% of outdoor dining areas that are less than 2,000 square feet, 50% of spaces between 2,000 and 5,000 square feet and 66% of any larger open-air dining spots. The change takes effect in 30 days.
Mayor Frank Quintero also voted against the change, which tweaked the council's decision last week to allow smoking in 50% of outdoor dining areas larger than 5,000 square feet. All other dining areas had 25% limits, a threshold approved nearly four years ago.
But restaurant owners — many who offer hookah smoking — complained that there is a greater demand than what was allowed under the restrictions.
Plus, only a handful of city businesses have outdoor dining areas larger than 5,000 square feet. Community Development Director Hassan Haghani said more businesses have outdoor dining areas larger than 2,000 square feet, but many will be in the category of being capped at 25%.
“We're not trying to legislate morality,” said Councilman Ara Najarian, who pushed the change. “What we're trying to do is make sure that there is sufficient distance between smokers and nonsmokers.”
But Weaver said Najarian was sneaking in the adjustment when anti-smoking advocates didn't have a chance to refute it.
“You're blindsiding them,” he said, later challenging Najarian and Friedman — who are both running for reelection in April — to explain on the campaign trail why they made it easier to smoke.
Friedman said she can't tolerate smoking, but didn't want to prevent others who were far enough away from people like her from lighting up.
“The idea here of this ordinance is that it's not social engineering,” she said.
Last week, several speakers railed against the dangers of smoking and hookah lounges, which will benefit greatly from the change.
One of them was resident Margaret Hammond, who on Tuesday criticized the council for loosening the smoking rules almost an hour after lauding the Glendale Fire Department's efforts to spread awareness of cancer.
“Here we are, back to the almighty buck. I just cannot believe it,” said Hammond, referring to bending to business interests.
Kevin Aksacki, owner of Hollywood Hookah in downtown Glendale, praised the change in a phone interview. His outdoor dining area is about 2,000 square feet, so he could increase smoking to 50%.
“I've been losing sleep over this,” Aksacki said, adding that his non-smoking section is constantly empty.
Ara Kalfayan, owner of Phoenicia Restaurant, which also has more than 2,000 square feet of outdoor dining, said he was pleased by the change, but he would have preferred a higher threshold.
“It's never enough,” he said. “The other 50% is going to be empty. I don't know how you deal with it.”