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February 3, 2010 > Zoning text amendment restricting head shops and tobacco sales

Zoning text amendment restricting head shops and tobacco sales

By Shavon Walker

Union City Council adopted a zoning text amendment following its second reading at its January 26 meeting. The new ordinance has two main elements - elimination of drug paraphernalia establishments, also known as head shops, and a use permit for retail tobacco stores, also known as smoke shops. The general distribution of tobacco would be prohibited within 1,000 ft. of "sensitive use" areas. The cities of Oakland and Berkley also have such policies. "Sensitive use" areas include schools, churches, libraries, and parks. Most other cities use a smaller buffer of 100 - 300 ft.

Union City noted an increase in inquiries regarding potential locations for head shops and tobacco stores. At the time, the city did not regulate those areas. On September 22, 2009, an emergency, interim ordinance placed a 45-day moratorium on the establishment of drug paraphernalia shops within city limits. On October 27, the moratorium was extended to ten months and 15 days days to allow time to prepare a zoning text amendment to address the issues. The city was concerned the absence of proper regulation could negatively impact the community at large.

On November 22, Council discussed the sale and regulation of tobacco products and restrictions on sales near areas frequented by children. Senator Alex Padilla's written correspondence regarding the negative effect of tobacco on the state's youth triggered the discussion which included a draft ordinance and reviewed municipalities' authority to regulate tobacco sales.

The Planning Commission supported the proposed text amendment to remove references to drug paraphernalia and head shops from the zoning ordinance since they are a matter regulated by state law. The definition of "cigarette store" was also removed. New regulations would not apply to stores with 15 percent, or less, of their floor space devoted to sales of tobacco and related-products to exempt grocery stores. Stores above this threshold would be categorized as retail tobacco stores/smoke shops and have to purchase a conditional use permit to sell those items.

The ordinance is not retroactive so existing sellers, above the 15 percent threshold, would be exempt but could not extend their business if it is too close to a "sensitive use" area. The definition of "retail tobacco store" was amended. Definitions for "tobacco product," "sensitive use" and "youth-oriented establishment" were added. "Retail tobacco stores" were added as conditionally permitted use if they are located 1,000 ft or more from a "sensitive use" area.

Thirty days after the second reading of the ordinance, it will become final at which point staff will recommend adoption of an ordinance ending the current moratorium on drug paraphernalia establishments/head shops. Staff has also sought Council direction for the creation of a local tobacco license that could help establish a 'three-strikes' law, to discourage sale to minors, and limited hours of operation for existing and new tobacco establishments.

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