Concerned about secondhand smoke, the Marin County Board of Supervisors recently prohibited smoking in outdoor dining areas, ATM lines, bus stops, public parks, at or within 20 feet of road-building or construction sites, at the county fair, at the farmers market and outside county buildings--among other venues. First-time offenders could be fined $100 and-or serve five days of community service; the second violation is $200 and-or 10 days community service, and that jumps to $500 and-or 15 days for subsequent offenses. The ban is effective Feb. 14. Valentine's Day was chosen on purpose, says Elizabeth Emerson, the county's tobacco program coordinator. "It's a sign of caring for both the nonsmokers and the smokers, because a lot of smokers will use this as an opportunity to quit."
Rohnert Park residents unplugged a clothes dryer that caught fire Nov. 14. After using a garden hose to douse the smoking exhaust vent, they went to bed. The next morning, smoke filled their house. Using a handheld infrared device, firefighters found a large blaze burning inside the wall between the garage and the kitchen, under the floorboards and in the attic. "Years of dryer lint had been packed solid in the now-useless exhaust hose," explains Sgt. Art Sweeney of the Rohnert Park Police and Fire Services. "When the dryer ran, the heat was going nowhere except into the wall behind the dryer." Empty a dryer's lint trap frequently, clean the exhaust vent at least once a year and contact the local fire department even for small blazes, to be sure they're completely extinguished, Sweeney says. "We want the call; the alternative could be tragedy."
In an unexpected result from last summer's record-high temperatures, PG&E is handing out its annual customer credits earlier than usual. PG&E is only allowed to make a certain amount of money each year; the rest is returned to customers as a year-end credit. Because people faced unusually high bills from air-conditioning costs during July's soaring temperatures, PG&E is applying the credits now. Statements for October give customers a "heat storm bill credit" worth 15 percent of their electrical costs in late July. "It's a way to give people an extra hand with these big bills from the heat storm," says PG&E spokesman David Eisenhauer. It's uncertain, he adds, whether there will be another customer credit at the end of the year.