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December 9, 2009 > Location of tobacco sales and head shops considered

Location of tobacco sales and head shops considered

By Shavon Walker

Union City Planning Commission met on December 3 and recommended a zoning text amendment to address the issue of "head shops" or drug paraphernalia establishments.

In September, an urgency ordinance was passed, placing a 45-day moratorium on such businesses. In October, the moratorium was extended to 10 1/2 months. On November 25, Council considered future regulation of tobacco sales near schools and other sensitive uses. This was in response to correspondence from State Senator Padilla.

Staff suggested three main changes to the original code. Head shops would no longer be conditionally permitted in community commercial (CC) districts (areas zoned for business uses within a community). Currently, state law prohibits them. Retail tobacco stores and smoke shops would be conditionally permitted in CC districts but required to have a special use permit and located 1,000 ft., or more, away from "sensitive use" locations.

The definition would include stores with more than 15 percent of floor area devoted to the sale of tobacco or smoke products and accessories and would also include the term "smoke shop". Tobacco distribution would also be allowed 1,000 ft. or more away from "sensitive use" locations. The distance from a "sensitive use" location to the business would be measured from the wall of use to the property line of the "sensitive use" area. Current tobacco retailers would not be subject to the new regulations. They would be grandfathered-in under the current code.

A number of factors account for the change. According to the US DEA, drug paraphernalia is often marketed specifically towards youth. Sellers use colorful logos, celebrity pictures, and youth-oriented designs, such as smiley faces, on their products. Much drug paraphernalia is also sold as "for use with tobacco only" but is intended for use of illegal substances instead. 36,000 children in California will become smokers every year and 75 percent will become life-long smokers. The annual cost of treating smoking-related diseases amounts to roughly $16 billion.

Planning Commissioners asked for changes to the language of the proposed zoning text amendment. The definition of "sensitive use" and "youth-oriented establishments" should be more specific. The language currently includes schools, religious institutions, parks, playgrounds, public libraries, recreation centers, and youth-oriented establishments. Additionally, the term "youth oriented establishments" must be designated as both private and public in nature. The term "tobacco product" must also be defined. Additionally, regulated smoking, such as hookah lounges, must also abide by the 1,000 ft. rule since they are tobacco distributors.

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