Attentions smokers: Alexandria’s bars and restaurants may soon become smoke free. After a failed General Assembly attempt to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, city leaders have taken the matter into their own hands. Last week, City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa presented the City Council with a document titled “Proposed Smoke-Free Restaurant Act.” If accepted by council members, the language would become part of the city’s Zoning Ordinance — moving through two public hearings before the Planning Commission and the City Council.
In a letter to Mayor Bill Euille, the city attorney laid out the legal case for the ban by citing the following factors: “abundant evidence” of the harms caused by secondhand smoke, the “inadequacy” of existing policies to protect nonsmokers and the “competitive disadvantage” created for Alexandria businesses by smoking bans in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County, Md.
“Based on these factors, I conclude that the city does have the authority as part of its Zoning Ordinance to require that restaurants and bars in the city operate as smoke-free establishments,” wrote Pessoa. “The rationale for the proposed regulations is that the restaurants which receive a zoning permit or some other benefit from the city must, as a condition of receiving or retaining that permit or benefit, agree to operate as a smoke-free establishment.”
During a meeting last week, the idea seemed to find a welcome audience with City Council members, several of whom expressed a desire to be leaders on the issue.
“I feel like this is a move in the right direction,” said the mayor. “We were first with red light cameras and first with a living wage. Why not be first with this?”
Win Some, Lose Some
Appearing before the City Council during an unusual Thursday night meeting, city lobbyist Bernard Caton updated the city’s elected leaders on who’s winning and who’s losing during this year’s General Assembly session. Several of the city’s favored issues have found success in the Republican-controlled legislature: creation of arts and cultural districts, bringing back red-light cameras, requiring quicker disclosure for political action committees and allowing elderly and disabled renters caught in the crosshairs of a condo conversion to transfer their first-right-of-refusal to a housing authority.
But at least one issue near and dear to City Hall bit the dust: S.B. 936. Patroned by Sen. Patsy Ticer (D-8), the bill sought to amend the Alexandria’s city charter to stipulate that “the fair market value of a building proposed for demolition is based on the assumption that the building will not be moved or demolished.” Caton said representatives for the owners of Gunston Hall Apartments, which the legislation was written to target, appeared before the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns and made a statement against the proposed legislation.
“The committee lobbed onto that statement as an excuse not to vote for it,” said Caton. “Quite frankly, I don’t think the committee would have voted for it anyway.”
Dunk the Assessor
During a discussion of the property-tax assessments last week at City Hall, Councilwoman Del Pepper suggested one potential new source of revenue: putting the property tax assessor in a dunking tank. She recalled a time in the not-too-distant past when the city did just that — and it was wildly successful. But Alexandria Real-Estate Assessor Cynthia Smith-Page wasn’t bullish on the idea.
“I’m telling you,” said Pepper. “People stood in long lines in the hot sun for this golden opportunity."
“That sounds frightening,” said Smith-Page, suggesting that one of her subordinates could take the duty instead of her.
On A Diet
Councilman Tim Lovain was a little miffed at City Manager Jim Hartmann’s proposal to forgo a cost-of-living increase for Alexandria employees this year. Known as a “COLA,” the pay raises are usually a staple of the budgeting process.
“I’d like to see some kind of a COLA,” said Lovain. “Maybe a diet COLA.”