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Winds of Change May Clear the Smoke in Lemon Grove

Times Staff Writer

As the City Council race heats up in the final days before the election Tuesday, incumbents and challengers in this East County city are grappling with the same burning issue--smoking.

Lemon Grove is the only city in San Diego County that hasn’t adopted the uniform smoking ordinance drafted by Californians for Nonsmokers’ Rights, a lobbying group. The ordinance, which would require employers to provide smoke-free working environments and mandate nonsmoking areas in restaurants, has been unanimously rejected twice by the City Council during the last year.

But with three of the five council seats up for election this year, the winds of change may soon clear the air.

Lobbyists from Californians for Nonsmokers’ Rights have been applying pressure to bring Lemon Grove into line with the county’s other 16 cities. Apparently,the group has been successful: four of the five challengers favor the ordinance, while the two incumbents say they would reconsider their earlier opposition.

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“I’m a nonsmoker; I’m for clean air,” said incumbent Lois Heiserman, who favors the ordinance in principle but is worried that it might be a hardship for small business owners to create separate smoking and nonsmoking areas. “If they can prove to me that I’m not going to put anybody out of business, I’ll vote for the ordinance.”

Heiserman questions whether the people of Lemon Grove really want the ordinance. She is also concerned that the attention anti-smoking lobbyists have focused on the matter, through stories and advertisements in local papers, is clouding the campaign’s more important issues, such as redevelopment.

“Before I saw the ad in the Lemon Grove Review, I didn’t think it was that big an issue,” she said. “I didn’t think that (Californians for Nonsmokers’ Rights) were spending that kind of money, that it was that important to them. . . . It seems to me there are much more important issues facing the City of Lemon Grove.”

Heiserman occupies a gray area on the smoking spectrum, between the extreme positions of challengers Brian Cochran and Carol Chubb. Cochran has campaigned on the pledge that a smoking ordinance proposal would be his first official act as a council member. Chubb, on the other hand, is a smoker who believes the idea should be consigned to the ashcan.

“I feel that the laws that are now on the books are adequate,” Chubb said. “I don’t think that any city should go overboard on ordinances. It’s getting to the point where smokers are being discriminated against.”

Although council members have said no citizens have complained about the lack of a smoking ordinance, Cochran charges that the council’s “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude is a smoke screen for inaction.

“The council has never even adequately looked into the issue,” Cochran said. “At our candidate forums, I got a very strong sense that people are interested in the issue. I think that it is the very basic, minimum level of health care that the council can do for this city. . . . I think it’s ridiculous that Lemon Grove is the only city in the county not to have this ordinance.”

Cochran predicted that both incumbents will be reelected. The top three vote-getters will be on the council. But with the retirement of Councilman Willis Bowsersox, at least one of the challengers will get a seat on the council. Despite all the attention generated by the smoking controversy, Cochran said the smoking ordinance may “die a quiet death” unless a fervent advocate--like himself--is elected.

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“There’s a tremendous feeling of ennui among the council,” he said. “The only way the ordinance will pass is if whoever’s elected on Tuesday is strongly in favor of it. If the two incumbents are reelected and I’m elected, I think I can convince the others to vote for it.”


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