A proposed tobacco ordinance for the city of Tracy will keep new tobacco retailers 600 feet away from places where youths gather, and ban future smoke shops from opening in residential neighborhoods.

Back in December the Tracy City Council asked city staff to create an ordinance that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and restrict the location of tobacco retailers. Flavored tobacco products had been under close watch in the aftermath of vaping-related lung injuries across the nation last summer and fall.

Tracy Unified School District then began warning middle- and high-school students about the dangers of vaping, and council members Dan Arriola and Rhodesia Ransom wanted the council to look into a city-wide ban of the flavored vaping solutions.

The result was the ordinance presented to the Tracy City Council at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

City attorney Leticia Ramirez told the council that Gov. Gavin Newsom had already enacted a flavored tobacco ban, referring to Senate Bill 793. Newsom signed the bill on Aug. 28, prohibiting the sale, or possession with intent to sell, flavored tobacco products or product flavor enhancers, including e-cigarettes, vaping products and menthol cigarettes state-wide. Flavored shisha tobacco typically used in hookahs, premium cigars and loose leaf tobacco were exempted from the ban.

With the ban already in place staff changed the proposed ordinance to deal with only the location restrictions of tobacco retailers, banning them from within 600 feet of sensitive youth uses in the city, including daycare centers, schools and youth centers which includes parks.

Ramirez said the proposed ordinance indentified a tobacco retailer as any person who sells, offers for sale, exchanges or offers to exchange any tobacco, tobacco product or tobacco paraphernalia for consideration without regard to the quantity sold.

“That means that the mere fact that you sell a tobacco product in your retail establishment makes you fit the definition of tobacco retailer,” Ramirez said. “Some jurisdictions define tobacco retailer differently to say it’s someone who sells 50% of their goods are at least tobacco products.”

The city has up to 60 tobacco retailers across town in business today with about 24 of them falling within what would be the 600 foot buffer zones around sensitive youth use areas. Those 24 retailers would be grandfathered in under the new ordinance, meaning they could continue business as non-conforming uses.

New tobacco retailers would be prevented from opening within the buffer zones, and if one of the current tobacco retailers in one of those zones closed for more than six months any business that would open in the same place could not operate as a tobacco retailer.

The ordinance was adjusted to have language reflecting the state-wide ban appear in the city ordinance.

Arriola said he wanted to enhance the ordinance noting that it made no distinction between a tobacco retailer whose primary business is the sale of tobacco, versus a corner market or bodega.

“In different public forums, I know I had one related to public safety last year, there was a lot of commentary related to support for things like corner stores, you know what I’m thinking in particular a lot of support for Parker Market, for Mi Ranchito, so those types that are kind of centers of the community,” Arriola said.

“However I heard concerns related to others that were independent zonings that exist, especially I can think of one along Parker that allow a business whose only and primary business is tobacco retail that does nothing else — so for example a smoke shop in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”

Arriola wanted to enhance the ordinance language to permit things like corner markets but exclude zoning business where just tobacco was 50% or more of their sales.

Ramirez said they could differentiate businesses based on a percentage of gross sales of tobacco products or the square footage of tobacco and tobacco related products.

Mayor Pro-tem Nancy Young was worried the modification could be too far reaching.

“I am concerned with an ordinance that we have that’s going above what already the Senate bill has already determined, because then we start getting into abolition and stuff, things that have guidelines already,” Young said. “I know each city can do whatever the cities want to do but after a while we start encroaching on other people’s rights.”

Ramirez said the buffer zones could change as well if stores that the city identifies as tobacco retailers don’t meet that 50% threshold for tobacco sales.

Mayor Robert Rickman agreed the city had to be careful where it treads.

“I think we’re doing good on that topic. We’re taking care of the part of the Senate bill with what we all had concerns with the vaping and targeting our children, and I think the Senate bill addresses that, but I don’t want to have any adverse affects on the communities too and certain neighborhoods. Some communities are dependant on local corner stores I would like to get more information on that,” Rickman said.

Arriola said his intent was to keep the existing sensitive use buffer zones, though businesses like smoke shops should be excluded from residential areas.

“I’m talking about an actual smoke shop that only sells tobacco products in the middle of a residential neighborhood. That’s what I’m opposed to,” Arriola said. “I don’t think it’s a whole lot but my proposal would be to maintain this blue map (of buffer zones) that is parallel with cannabis and then add any smoke shops within a residential that is not surrounded by commercial. There are very few in the city and I can only realistically think of one, but it’s something I would like to prevent in the future.”

The council voted 4-1 with Young dissenting, staging that she wanted to receive updates and send the ordinance to the planning commission with the addition of a prohibition of smoke shops in residential neighborhoods.

City staff said the planning commission could get the ordinance sometime in October and then will return to the city council for discussion and a vote.

• Contact Glenn Moore at gmoore@tracypress.com, or call 209-830-4252.

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