Almost a year after the city’s already strict smoking ban went into effect, Santa Monica city officials are considering strengthening it.
Currently, the ban prohibits smoking on the Third Street Promenade, all farmers markets, all outdoor dining areas and outdoor service areas, such as bus stops, ATM lines and movie theater lines, and within 20 feet of entrances, exits or open windows of buildings open to the public.
Smoking is also prohibited in the city’s public parks and beaches.
But the current law does not hold a restaurant operator or a business liable if they “knowingly or intentionally” permit smoking in their public outdoor areas where smoking is prohibited under the current law.
However, under a proposed amendment to strengthen the ban, restaurant operators and business owners could soon be held responsible.
City staff is working on the proposed amendment, which they intend to bring to the Santa Monica City Council for a vote before the end of the year, probably in October or November, said deputy city attorney Adam Radinsky, who heads the city’s Consumer Protection Unit.
“We’re still researching ideas,” said the city’s consumer affairs specialist, Paula Rockenstein. “Nothing has been set in stone yet.”
Since the ban went into effect last Thanksgiving, Radinsky says, “By far, most feedback the city has gotten is, ‘We want more enforcement; we want more bans.'”
The city has received about 25 to 30 complaints about the smoking ban not being enforced, Rockenstein said.
And the complaints are not just about one or two businesses but “many throughout the whole city,” Rockenstein said.
In fact, Rockenstein said that one restaurant was “so blatant as to provide ashtrays” to smokers.
Radinsky and Rockenstein, among others, think that amending the smoking law to hold business owners liable will not only make enforcement easier, but will make businesses more responsible and aware of what’s going on in their area.
“We want people to know about this and to know that this is an important health and safety issue, not just for smokers but nonsmokers,” Rockenstein said. “We want people to be aware and we want people to comply. We’re just asking for everyone to work together on this.”
Quite a few citations have already been issued, Radinsky said. Currently, fines are at $250.
“I’d say probably over 100 citations have been issued on the Promenade alone,” Radinsky said.
And about 20 citations have been issued to smokers at outdoor dining areas in the city. There are less than 100 outdoor dining areas in the city, Radinsky said.
So far, the Main Street area is where it has been “most problematic,” Radinsky said. Law enforcement has “been citing quite a few people down there.”
But police have stepped up enforcement there — and throughout the city.
A public meeting was held at the Santa Monica Main Library Monday, September 17th, for business owners to learn about the proposed changes to the law, but the meeting brought fewer than a dozen people.
Some believed more should have been done to inform the public about the meeting.
“I think there should be more outreach,” said Lisa Powers, operations manager for Ye Olde King’s Head, a British restaurant and pub at Second Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
Notices were sent out by the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce to its members, as well as by the California Restaurant Association and the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Some business owners are worried about the proposed changes to the law, although Radinsky stressed that “as long as a business is being honestÖ there shouldn’t be a problem.”
West Hooker, owner of Locanda del Lago on the Third Street Promenade, which has an outdoor dining area, says, “My concern is, how do you determine when the restaurant is liable?”
Hooker pointed out that a waiter at his restaurant may not even notice a smoker until a complaint has been made by a diner.
Powers agrees. She says that Ye Olde King’s Head sees a lot of tourists who smoke — and who come to the site unaware of the city’s smoking ban.
Powers also says that enforcement can be “quite difficult.”
“We do enforce it [the ban] when we have the manpower,” Powers said. “But when we’re on skeletal staff, it’s obviously a lot more difficult to keep a hold on.
“We do have those customers that like to have a cigarette after their meal. And even though you tell them it’s illegal, they still insist on smoking on the patio. They say, ‘Well, we’ll risk it.’ Some people insist on smoking.”
But under the proposed changes to the law, a business would only be responsible if it “knowingly or intentionally” allowed or encouraged the smoking, Radinsky said.
“Every case is different, but as long as a business is making an honest effort,” they will not be responsible, Radinsky said.
But Hooker says, “From my point of view, this is worrisome. I don’t think the burden should be on us for this very new ordinance that is still controversial.”
Hooker also suggested that the city put a more “positive” spin on its campaign informing people about the smoking ban and create signs that put the message in a “positive light.”
“Perhaps we can say something like, ‘Extend your life in Santa Monica because they [smokers] aren’t allowed to smoke,'” he said.
In the meantime, city staff is working on the proposed ordinance, which will probably be brought before City Council before the end of the year.