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Tuesday, June 20, 2006 | You used to be able to smoke in offices and airplanes, in bars and restaurants. Add beaches and parks to that list now. The San Diego City Council banned smoking on city beaches, parks and other public open spaces Monday, continuing the gradual exorcism of smoking from public spaces.
The sight of cigarette butts engrained in the city’s famous sand – as well as public health concerns – spurred council members to their unanimous decision. Health advocates and a throng of public supporters cheered the plan, which Council President Scott Peters and Councilman Jim Madaffer advanced.
“Our goal is to reduce litter and repair the health effects that have been harming so many for so long,” Madaffer said.
Officials expect the new measure to essentially be self-regulating and hope proper signage will deter would-be smokers from lighting up. Police officers and life guards will simply inform any wayward smokers of the regulations and ask them to stop; scofflaws would only be ticketed after ignoring the authorities’ warnings. A first offense would warrant a $250 fine and a second offense within a year would result in a $500 fine.
Supporters claimed that the new measure wouldn’t come at a cost to the city and wouldn’t require any new policing. Madaffer said start up costs of about $30,000 would be covered by outside organizations.
Frankie Hogan, a 12 year old who said he had asthma, said he wanted to be able to go to the beach and not encounter smoke everywhere.
“And it’s gross to find butts everywhere in the sand,” he said.
Joe Kellejian, a Solana Beach city councilman, said his city has incurred no additional costs and issued no citations since passing a similar measure in November 2003. Solana Beach is credited as being the first city in the continental United States to pass such a ban, and cities around the region has followed suit, including Del Mar, Imperial Beach and National City.
The measure was a rare return to normalcy for the City Council, as it passed a high-profile quality-of-life proposal and steered clear of the tension and strife that has accompanied so many other hearings in recent years during the crescendo of its financial and political crisis.
Still, a small pack of dissenters claimed that public health concerns cited were overblown and that littering on the beach is already illegal.
“That law is already on the books,” college professor Judy Lincoln said of littering. She added: “We don’t have the resources to enforce the laws we already have.”
A number of smokers in Ocean Beach said Monday that they properly dispose of their butts, never letting them fall to the sand.
“I put them straight into one of these,” said Veasna Frank, picking up a silver Coors Light beer can.
Ardian Lushi didn’t think the ban would have much impact. He said: “People will still just throw the butts away on the beach.”
Councilwoman Toni Atkins supported the ban, but expressed concern that the process seemed rushed. She said that when the City Council chose to ban alcohol at certain beaches in 2001, the public was much more engaged and informed. (The issue later went before voters, who spiked the alcohol ban in 2002.)
“I worry a little bit that we haven’t had a full conversation for the public,” she said.
Resident Bill Bradshaw spoke against the ban and questioned the wisdom of a smoking prohibition while continuing to permit the drinking of alcohol.
“The beach in San Diego is essentially an open bar,” he said, listing violence, drunk driving and underage drinking as major problems in beach communities.
Other opponents said that the smoke from bonfires or barbeques was much more dangerous than the smoke of cigarettes, and warned that tourists would be deterred from coming to San Diego because of the ban.
A number of supporters of the ban said second hand smoke was dangerous to other beachgoers and said that reduced smoking in public would send a positive message to children.
Peters said that for him, it was not an issue about second hand smoke or sending messages to children.
“It’s abundantly a litter problem in my district,” he said.
– Staff writer Will Carless contributed to this report.