Riverbank mayor calls for e-cigarette restrictions

gstapley@modbee.comJune 24, 2014 

— City leaders should outlaw e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited, Mayor Richard O’Brien said Tuesday as City Council members unanimously passed a yearly budget.

City Attorney Thomas Hallinan said after the meeting that he would research options for the council to consider soon.

“Many city councils have done it,” O’Brien said, criticizing California legislators for failing to act on proposals before Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed the budget.

Florida this month joined Oklahoma, Kentucky, Connecticut and Delaware in making it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors. Such smokeless products vaporize nicotine and flavor, and critics say the exhalation can harm others nearby.

“They’re not illegal in bars, but they should be,” O’Brien said, because “residue is emitted by breath onto surrounding tables.”

The mayor also said he’s worried that sewer fees can’t be raised fast enough.

The city’s sewer fund is hemorrhaging and the council has hired a consultant to produce a study justifying rate increases for water and sewer services. It should be done in September, after which the city would suggest a fee hike and allow people to submit protest votes.

O’Brien said City Hall is losing $700 a day, representing the difference between what customers pay and how much the city pays to operate its sewer system. And the sewer fund’s reserves of 5 percent won’t go far in a catastrophe, O’Brien said.

The council unanimously adopted the $34 million budget, which relies on reserves to close a $9.8 million deficit, or the difference between expenses and income.

Councilwoman Leanne Jones Cruz was out of town but cast votes via teleconference from Florida.

The council also agreed to let City Manager Jill Anderson hire a planning manager to fill a yearlong vacancy, and to promote the deputy planning director to oversee a newly organized public works department.

Also, the council created a zoning district for mixed-use projects in hopes of attracting more business downtown and in other commercial areas, despite objections from a downtown homeowner.

Evelyn Halbert said people haven’t been given enough chances to voice opinions on the idea, which could encourage the development of ground-level shops and restaurants with living units above. She fears more noise and traffic.

Jones Cruz said “no” on that item, but was outvoted by the others, except for Darlene Barber-Martinez. Halbert challenged whether Barber-Martinez should sit out the item because she has a tax preparation business in an affected downtown area.

The councilwoman rents office space and does not own the property, but Hallinan suggested she step aside, to be safe.

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