Cigar Aficionado

Oakland Takes a Mulligan on Smoke Ban

No disrespect intended, but if I'm in Northern California, Oakland is not my first choice when it comes to, well, anything. Except this past weekend, while in the area for a party, I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt that has become a favorite and sort of summed up the city's well-known lefty reputation. "U.S. Out of Oakland," it said.

Now, it seems, the City Council has given me no more reason to visit by passing a ban on smoking in an increasing number of public places. On October 16, the august body determined that it's a bad idea for you and me to be smoking while in line at an outdoor ATM, or while buying a ticket for a movie, or while enjoying a public park or hiking on one of its trails or, in general, outdoors. I stipulate "it seems" as it seems there is some considerable confusion over whether the ban was actually passed and whether it includes public golf courses.

"I think obviously everybody knows it was not clear," said City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente on the day after the vote. What was clear last week was that "it seems" no one at any of Oakland's three municipal golf courses was up to speed on the antismoking proposal. When I called to check, each of the courses said I was welcome to light up. At one, the woman who answered the phone said she hadn't even heard of the proposal to ban smoking on golf courses.

I drove to one course, the Metropolitan Golf Links, and found that not only could you puff while you duff, but that the pro shop sells cigars. Okay, not an altogether fascinating selection, but you can also bring your own. When I asked the pro on duty what the deal was, he admitted he'd heard something about a ban.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," the pro said. "The reason cigarettes were invented comes from golf." My quizzical look drove him to give me the punch line. "Bogeys," he said. Comedy is apparently not permitted at the course, but you can still light up.

The Oakland City Council, in a sign of semi-wisdom, did not seem to ban smoking in front of bars. A proposal would have had patrons move 10 feet away from the door. Now the measure says that you can smoke outside your watering hole, but not if the smoke is entering "adjacent properties." One report said the 10-foot perimeter went away out of concern for "smokers' safety." Beyond ATM lines and parks, the law apparently also says you can't smoke while dining outdoors and in child care centers. Landlords and condo owners will have to tell prospective renters and buyers the smoking "status" of their units. Apparently, all that is in the law could change as a "final" vote is scheduled for November 6. More than likely, only the golf course smoking confusion will be clarified.

By the way, at the same meeting that this smoking ban was "enacted," the City Council voted unanimously to let pet owners tie their dogs to light poles, trees on the street and parking meters. In retail areas. For 15 minutes. While they run errands. Or find a place to smoke.

Alejandro Benes uses ATMs mostly in Southern California, where he lives, smokes cigars and is kind to his dog.