Councilwoman Backs Away From Banning Hookah Bars

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Anaheim Councilwoman Gail Eastman Tuesday night withdrew an ordinance that would have temporarily banned new hookah lounges in Anaheim.

Last month, Eastman asked her City Council colleagues to consider the “urgency” ordinance after a new hookah lounge in west Anaheim drew complaints from residents in the neighborhood who worry about smoke from the water pipes wafting toward their homes.

Eastman’s intent, however, was not to enact a ban on existing or new hookah lounges, according to City Manager Marcie Edwards. City officials will continue their study without the urgency ordinance, Edwards said.

Smoking hookahs, a pastime popular among Middle Eastern people, has become a nuisance to some residents of the Archer Street neighborhood that runs parallel to the stretch of Brookhurst Street known as Little Arabia.

Residents of that neighborhood wrote letters harshly critical of a proposed banquet hall with an outdoor hookah lounge, citing noise, public safety and second-hand smoke problems. They asserted that hookah lounges that already exist in Little Arabia have been problematic.

In other news from the meeting:

Councilwoman Kris Murray proposed a resolution stating that special government districts should go through the local planning process after the Orange County Water District approved a lease of empty land in Anaheim to a company wanting to build a power plant on the site.

State law doesn’t require power plants to go before a city council or city planning commission, the public bodies that typically vet projects affecting local neighborhoods and businesses. Instead, the California Energy Commission will do the environmental analysis usually handled at the local government level.

The project drew dozens of residents to water board meetings upset with the proposed power plant, saying that the fumes and 90-foot smokestacks were a threat to their health and property values.

“It was an unprecedented step for a special district to take last night,” Murray said.

Murray also asked that the council consider during the closed session portion of the meeting its legal options regarding the power plant.

Murray then proposed that the City Council be given a progress report and regular public workshops on the Angel Stadium lease negotiations, with an emphasis on the financial benefits of keeping the Angels baseball team in the city.

Murray contended that so far the public has been badly misinformed and that the resulting backlash has affected negotiations.

The council in September approved preliminary deal terms that formed the basis of ongoing negotiations between the city and team owner Arte Moreno.

Under the preliminary terms, Moreno would lease 155 acres of land around the stadium for $1 per year and use revenue from developing the land to make up to $150 million in maintenance and upgrades to the aging stadium. Moreno would also be permitted to drop “Anaheim” from the team’s name.

However, it should be noted that the maintenance costs are already Moreno’s responsibility under the current lease.

The memorandum of understanding outlining these deal points sparked outrage from the moment it appeared on the Sept. 3 council meeting agenda. Mayor Tom Tait and many residents have described the memorandum as the foundation for giving away an extremely valuable public asset.

Other city leaders said that keeping the Angels in Anaheim has economic and other intrinsic benefits, such as city pride, that make the deal worthwhile. And although Murray and others at first attacked Tait’s campaign against the memorandum as reckless, they have since softened their tone.

“I will not support any final agreement with Angels baseball that is not in the best interests of Anaheim residents and taxpayers,” Murray said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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