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Council Moves to Ban Smoking on Beach, Pier

By Jorge Casuso

Dec. 1 -- The City Council is exploring extending a smoking ban in parks to Santa Monica's beaches and pier, a move expected to raise concerns among business and pier officials.

The direction from the council came shortly after midnight Wednesday, when Mayor Richard Bloom's motion to draft two new ordinances was approved by the council with a 6 to 1 vote and virtually no comment.

Citing health issues, Bloom timed the proposed ordinances to coincide with a law being contemplated by the Los Angeles City Council that would ban smoking on all Los Angeles beaches.

"If we do this together, it's going to be harder to argue that this is going to hurt business," Bloom said after the meeting. "I don't think people will stop coming here.

"I don't think the ban in the parks has had an impact" on visitors, Bloom said. "I don't think a ban on the beach will have an impact. Smoking is offensive, and it carries a health burden we shouldn't have to bear."

Council member Pam O'Connor cast the sole opposing vote, echoing sentiments she expressed when casting the only vote against the park smoking ban approved in March.

"Smoking is still a legal activity, and I think people make choices in life," O'Connor said after the meeting. "I think this is something we should not be regulating. If we as a society decide it should be banned in parks and beaches, we should do it on a bigger scale statewide."

While they have not taken a formal stance, officials at the Chamber of Commerce, the Pier Restoration Corporation and the Convention and Visitors Bureau are expected to take a close look at the proposed bans.

The chamber did not oppose the law prohibiting smoking in parks, said chamber president Kathy Dodson, but it "made a conscious decision not to support it.

"I know that with the first ordinance, we were definitely concerned with foreign tourists," Dodson said.

Pier officials also are concerned that an all out ban could deter visitors -- particularly international tourists, who tend to smoke more than Americans -- and could be difficult to enforce.

"The fact that we have a lot of international visitors, restricting smoking could be a deterrent," said Ben Franz-Knight, executive director of the Pier Restoration Corporation. "The other issue is enforcement. How do you enforce it? We need a clear picture of what that would look like."

The Redondo Beach and Huntington Beach piers, he said, do not ban smoking, although smoking is prohibited on the Venice Pier.

In addition to the health hazards posed by second-hand smoke, Bloom said he also is concerned with safety on the massive wooden pier.

"Fire is one of the concerns," Bloom said. "There is a safety issue. Not only is the pier wooden, but so are the historic structures on the pier."

Pier officials already have been taking measures to address the hazards of smoking on the wooden structure. Last year, the Harbor Patrol responded to 450 cigarette-related fires, 15 of which were considered substantial, according to City records. Nine of the fires required support from the fire department.

At the behest of Fire Chief Jim Hone, the Pier Restoration Corporation studied the problem, walking the wooden planks and mapping out the locations where cigarette burns were concentrated. Pier officials then installed receptacles at about a dozen spots frequented by smokers.

"So far, the reports and incidents of fire have been down," Franz-Knight said.

The pier board will assess the impact of the receptacles this month and take a position on the all-out ban proposed by Bloom before an ordinance returns to the council early next year, he said.

While the pier ban should prevent fires, the ordinance prohibiting smoking on beaches, Bloom said, should deter littering, as well as second-hand smoke inhaled by beach goers on the crowded sand.

"Along the more crowded areas of the beach, there are a lot of people congregated in close quarters," Bloom said. "That is where second-hand smoke would be a problem.

"There is also the issue of cigarette butts on the sand," the mayor added. "A large percentage of the trash on the beach are cigarettes."

Studies have found that cigarette butts are the number one trash item on Santa Monica's beaches, City officials said. Of the 7 million pounds of trash removed from local beaches annually, only about 2 million pounds is collected from trashcans, with the rest picked up from the sand, officials said.

The City recently purchased a new, state-of-the-art beach cleaning vehicle -- the first of its kind in North America -- that picks up trash from the sand, including debris as small as a cigarette butt, much more efficiently than other beach cleaners, officials said.

The new ordinances would come about a year after the council banned smoking in public parks. Under that ordinance, anyone at a park caught smoking or disposing on the ground any tobacco-related product -- including chewing tobacco spit -- faces a $250 fine.

With the adoption of the "curb to curb" ban on smoking within parks citywide, Santa Monica joined a handful of cities, including Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Carson, which have extended to entire parks a statewide ban on smoking within 25 feet of playgrounds and tot lot areas.
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