Complaints by restaurant owners that compliance with Beverly Hill's tough anti-smoking ordinance is too costly and may destroy the ambiance of their posh establishments may lead to exemptions for many restaurants.
The City Council on Tuesday is expected to extend for the second time a deadline for owners to submit floor plans showing how they intend to comply with the law.
The 90-day extension would give city staff more time to consider amending the ordinance to allow waivers for financial or architectural hardships.
In March, Beverly Hills drew national attention for adopting an anti-smoking ordinance that banned smoking in all restaurants with 50 or more seats. Four months later, the City Council softened the ordinance to allow restaurants to set aside as much as 50% of their tables for smokers if ventilation systems and walls were installed.
Restaurants are allowed to have smoking sections after they submit their seating plans showing that no more than 50% of the dining area would be for smokers, although walls or ventilation systems would not have to be in place for six months.
The original deadline for submitting plans had been Nov. 1. In September, it was extended to Dec. 15. The new deadline would be March 15, if the council approves it.
The city staff hopes to select five or six restaurants as test sites during the extension period to determine what would be involved for those restaurants to fully comply with the ordinance and at what cost, according to Mark Scott, director of environmental services.
The Beverly Hills Restaurant Assn., which represents about 60 of the 110 restaurants in the city, asked for the extension after complaining for several months that the requirements were too costly for most of its members and could alter the look of their dining rooms.
The ordinance calls for a "physical separation between the smoking and no-smoking section." If the restaurant's configuration does not allow for a wall, then the distance between the sections measured from table ends shall be "equal to 50% of the ceiling height or eight feet, whichever is greater."
In addition, an "air curtain"--a fan-like device that provides a stream of air to keep smoke out of no-smoking areas--is required if a wall is not provided.
Separate ventilation systems are also required for restaurants with sections separated by walls. Those without walls are required to have filters on their ventilation systems to keep smoke from recirculating into the non-smoking areas.
At a City Council study session last month, council members acknowledged that installing new ventilation systems could be more expensive than initially estimated for some restaurant owners and that walls and even air curtains could could affect the aesthetics of some of the city's posh eateries.
"We don't want to put anyone out of business," said Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum.
Joe Patti, who owns La Famiglia and Piccola restaurants on north Canon Drive, said installing a new ventilation system in his establishments would cost $100,000.
"We are really trying to comply," he said. "We are trying to come up with smoking and no-smoking sections. There may be some owners who may take the attitude of 'come and get me,' but I think most are trying."
Patti said that the no-smoking ordinance has "been a nightmare." He said business is down, primarily because many smokers are not aware that the ordinance has been amended to allow for smoking sections.
Danger to Ambiance
Celestino Drago, who owns Celestino Restaurant on south Beverly Drive, said he hopes that placing a large table in the middle of his restaurant to separate the smoking and non-smoking sections in his 60-seat restaurant will satisfy the requirements. He also has added some additional ventilation to the non-smoking section at minimal cost.
Drago said that if he is forced to place a wall between the two sections the look and ambiance of his restaurant would be ruined.
"A restaurant's success depends on the food, service and ambiance," he said. "It's how customers feel when they walk in. If there is a big wall in the middle of the restaurant, that will destroy the ambiance."
Rudy Cole, executive director of the restaurant association, said his group wants to work with city officials to come up with reasonable standards.
"We are not in a confrontational mode," he said. "The owners recognize that the future is less smoking . . . but I think they would still prefer that it be a voluntary method."