Moratorium on hookah parlors OKd

The Costa Mesa City Council last week approved a temporary moratorium on new hookah parlors while the Planning Commission sorts out how to regulate the smoking lounges.

Costa Mesa is home to three hookah parlors, and as of the Nov. 5 council decision, no more will be allowed to open in the city for 45 days.

The approach allows current legally operating establishments to continue in the city.

The Planning Commission recommended the moratorium instead of an outright ban while it explores other regulatory options such as establishing buffer zones around the stores.

Hookah parlors are relatively new in Costa Mesa, city staff explained, with three opening in the past three or four years.

The city took up the issue of regulating them primarily because of health concerns related to hookah's tobacco smoke and the large number of police calls or code violations at the locations.

Councilwoman Sandy Genis pointed out that really only one hookah parlor, on 19th Street, has been a bad neighbor, generating more than 230 calls to police since 2010.

The other two hookah lounges, on Fair Drive and Bristol Street, led to 11 and five calls, respectively.

"I would hate to tar everybody with that," she said.

Genis said she's worried that cultural differences may be part of the reason hookah parlors are being looked at for regulation.

"That's a concern for me," Genis said.

She voted to put the moratorium in place, but said, "I will not support an outright ban in the long run."

The item passed 4 to 0, with Councilwoman Wendy Leece absent.

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