The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday night tentatively approved the toughest no-smoking law in Orange County.
The controversial measure, which regulates smoking citywide, was approved on a 4-1 vote following a two-hour council debate and public hearing before a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall.
If council members approve the ordinance a second time--an action that could take place within two weeks--the new law would take effect 30 days later.
Under the proposed law smoking would be prohibited in public meeting rooms, municipal buses, theaters, auditoriums, elevators and indoor service lines.
The ordinance would require all city employers to adopt written smoking policies giving their employees the right to designate work areas as off-limits to smoking. In disputes over the policy, the wishes of non-smokers would be given precedence over those of smokers.
Laguna Beach's new law would also prohibit smoking in restaurants with a capacity of 40 or more. However, it would not affect restaurants that have created no-smoking areas.
The proposed ordinance goes further than other no-smoking regulations in Orange County, since it regulates smoking throughout the city.
Westminster, for example, adopted an ordinance regulating smoking in city-owned buildings, while the county has a law restricting smoking in county-owned buildings and health facilities in unincorporated areas.
Laguna Beach officials studied several smoking ordinances throughout the state but patterned their ordinance primarily after Pasadena's, which is "middle of the road" in terms of stringent restrictions, said City Manager Ken Frank.
"We're the first (citywide law) in Orange County, but it certainly isn't unusual anymore," Frank said.
Laguna Beach, which generally has a reputation for liberal politics, has passed precedent-setting laws on other issues, too. The city, for example, is the only Orange County municipality to ban discrimination against homosexuals in employment, education, housing and business.
Politics aside, it's also more likely that Laguna Beach would be the first in Orange County to regulate smoking citywide because it has no major employers, multistory business centers or major shopping centers that might oppose the new law, Frank and other city officials said.
Laguna Beach officials will rely on citizen complaints to enforce the law, Frank said. If the city receives a complaint, it will first make the violator aware of the ordinance. If the situation is unresolved, Frank continued, the city would then cite the violator for an infraction.
The maximum fine is $100 for a first offense, $200 for the second and $500 for third and for subsequent violations, he said.
However, Laguna Beach officials are hopeful that the law will be observed. Frank said that all the cities with smoking laws he contacted did not have to bring formal charges against offenders.
Laguna Beach's smoking ordinance and others like it have been strongly opposed by groups such as The Tobacco Institute, a Washington-based trade group of cigarette manufacturers.
The group, which was consulted by Laguna Beach officials when they were considering the ordinance, believes that smoking laws are "unnecessary and unenforceable," according to William D. Toohey Jr., media relations director for the lobbying group in Washington.
To enforce the ordinance properly, the city will have to assign officials to carry out constant inspections or create "some type of paper work mechanism to ensure that everyone is complying," he said.
Toohey said there are other hidden costs, explaining, "Nothing is free, whether it's signs or (whether) you have to move people around or disrupt work flow. There's cost involved in that."
Government does not need to get involved in smoking issues, he added, because, "All problems can be resolved privately. It's certainly the prerogative of an owner or manager of a private establishment to determine whether or not smoking will be allowed.
However, Councilman Neil Fitzpatrick, the leading spokesman for the Laguna Beach ordinance, said, "I feel that it's a health hazard and an annoyance for people that have to tolerate it . . . . I'm just looking for a smoke-free zone for people who don't care to inhale tobacco smoke."
Under the ordinance, smokers and non-smokers will be less inconvenienced in Laguna Beach, Fitzpatrick said, adding: "Now when people arrive at a place, they know what the ground rules are. They don't have to guess or make a request for, what I would call, a demilitarized zone."
Finally, the city will bear the brunt of criticism for smoking restriction, rather than merchants or employers, he said.
However, some proponents of the ordinance are still not satisfied. The Orange County Council on Smoking and Health, a coalition of health organizations and private citizens, wants "more teeth" in the Laguna Beach law, said Richard Boyle, coordinator of the group and an official with the Orange County branch of the American Cancer Society.
Boyle said the law should have had protections for employees who complain about smokers and also establish minimum distances between smoking and no-smoking tables in restaurants.