The recent opening of a Durant Avenue smoke shop may be in violation of city zoning laws.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district includes the south-of-campus area, said councilmembers received an e-mail from Mark Rhodes, director of current planning, that said a mistake was made in issuing a use permit to the University Gift and Smoke Shop at 2506 Durant Ave.
Zoning regulations, specific to the Telegraph Avenue shopping area, prohibit new stores whose sales are made up of more than one-third tobacco products, unless there is a public hearing and subsequent issuance of a use permit.
Rhodes was unavailable for comment Saturday.
The opening of the Telegraph area shop spurred Councilmember Dona Spring to call for a citywide moratorium on new smoke shops.
Spring has placed a resolution on the Jan. 16 City Council agenda calling for the moratorium until the city’s zoning regulations can be amended to restrict what she calls the “proliferation of smoke shops in Berkeley.”
Spring said she hopes the Planning Commission regulations will target areas near schools – including UC Berkeley.
“They like to put these shops near schools because kids are the easiest to get hooked on nicotine products,” Spring said. “Oakland has a ordinance forbidding tobacco shops near schools and I think Berkeley should, too.”
According to Paul Fletcher a spokesperson for the American Lung Association, studies show there is a definite correlation between the opportunity to purchase cigarettes and the number of minors who smoke.
“There are 150 places to buy cigarettes in Berkeley,” Fletcher said, “Clearly the area is already over saturated.”
Fletcher cited a survey by the Berkeley police and the Berkeley Tobacco Coalition in which minors posed as cigarette buyers last summer. According to Fletcher, the sting showed that one-third of Berkeley cigarette vendors sold tobacco to minors.
Berkeley resident Tim Moder is among those who have contacted Spring to voice opposition to the new Durant Avenue smoke shop. He said there should be no more than five stores that sell cigarettes in the city. “It would make it much easier to monitor these places to make sure they don’t sell to kids,” he said. “With 150 stores selling cigarettes there’s just no way.”
The owner of the newly opened Durant Avenue smoke shop, Nabel Totah, also owns two other similar stores, one on University Avenue and another in Oakland.
“Cigarette sales are a very small part of our business,” said Gena Garcia, a manager at Totah’s Oakland smoke shop. “If Mr. Totah knew that Berkeley didn’t want anymore smoke shops he certainly would have not invested money there.”
Judith Scherr of the Daily Planet staff contributed to this story.