In the News

Watsonville considers license for tobacco retailers

Tuesday May 25, 2010
By The Santa Cruz Sentinel

The Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 25, 2010


WATSONVILLE - The City Council took a step toward requiring cigarette sellers to get a local license Tuesday, unanimously directing the police department to develop an ordinance for consideration.

If approved, police say they would have more authority and resources to ensure minors can't get smokes.

But City Council members said they want to know more before making any decision.

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Bilicich said she's concerned about the impact of new rules on businesses as well as youthful smokers.

"I definitely want to explore this and see what we come up with," Bilicich said.

Deputy Police Chief Robert Knill said existing California laws are tough to enforce locally because they require partnering with cash-strapped state agencies. Nor has the city had the resources to keep tabs on merchants, he said. A licensing ordinance with a fee would help pay for local enforcement, as well as providing penalties for violators, Knill said.

"We don't have to rely on state and federal law. We can have our own sanctions," he said.

Several people spoke in favor of creating an ordinance. They said teens have little difficulty getting tobacco and they talked about the health costs that could be avoided by preventing another generation from getting hooked on smoking.

Richard Salazar said he'd been working to reduce underage smoking for years through Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance.

"Tobacco has a built-in clientele," Salazar said. "If you're out of cigarettes and you're out of bread, I think we know which one you're going to get first. We don't need new addicted youth."

Zarko Radich, owner of Jack's Cigars downtown, was the only representative from the business community to speak. He expressed concern about the cost of a license - which has yet to be determined - as well as the burden being placed on busy police officers. He said he was already licensed by state and federal authorities and had been operating his business for years without problems.

"I don't need another license to be honest," Radich said.

Councilman Emilio Martinez worried about adding costs to businesses that are following the law, particularly during tough economic times.

"If somebody doesn't have any violations for the last 10, 15, 20 years, to expect them to pay for a license, I don't feel comfortable," Martinez said.

Knill said the intent of an ordinance would be to identify out-of-compliance businesses.

"It's not a panacea," said Mayor Luis Alejo. "But it would provide significant resources to have local control, local oversight over the problem."