A near-capacity crowd of about 200 Camarillo residents packed a public hearing in the City Council chambers Wednesday night to speak on two proposed laws that would restrict smoking in public places in the city.
By late evening, however, the council still had not reached a decision on whether to approve either ordinance. The tougher of the two laws would effectively ban smoking in all public places in the city except bars, tobacco shops and private residences. A less restrictive version would allow smoking in most public places provided there are separate nonsmoking areas with separate ventilation systems.
The council initially considered the stricter version at a meeting in February. But after an outcry by smokers' rights advocates and owners of small businesses, council members decided to send the ordinance back to a committee for reworking.
A less restrictive ordinance would allow smoking in restaurants and nonprofit bingo operations in the city provided the establishments offer completely separate nonsmoking areas and have separate ventilation systems. The alternative ordinance would also exempt restaurants with seating capacities of 35 patrons or less.
On Wednesday, the majority of the speakers early in the evening favored some form of a smoking ban, while other speakers opposed any sort of restriction on the grounds that it would infringe on personal freedoms.
"What we are talking about is liberty and justice, and slowly but surely these things are being taken away from us," resident Gloria Scott said. "Anti-smoking people aren't out for justice, they are out for themselves."
Janet Clay, an employee at Two Plus Two Restaurant on Pickwick Drive, also spoke against both proposals, saying she feared that, as written, the laws would keep restaurant customers away, causing business to suffer and restaurants owners to lay off employees.
"Many restaurants cannot comply with the restrictions (the council) is thinking of putting on us," Clay said. "If this passes, this will put people out of work and shut down businesses."
Supporters of a smoking ban wore stickers on their clothing emblazoned with large red hearts and the words, "The Heart is a No-Smoking Zone."
Resident Bob Church said he favored the more restrictive of the two proposed laws. "Does my neighbor or her daughter have to die as a result of a lenient policy? When you vote, please, I beg you, vote for life."
And resident Donald Anderson compared the controversy over the city's proposed ordinances to that sparked by the state motorcycle helmet law. He argued that both issues were more than just matters of personal choice, but affect the broader public concern.
"All I've heard tonight is about the rights of business owners, but the health of the general public is at stake here," Anderson said. "Please vote for the most restrictive ordinance."
Throughout the meeting, smokers went out for cigarette breaks in the courtyard outside council chambers. Many wore "Commie-rillo" T-shirts as an expression of their concerns about restrictions on personal rights.
Councilwoman Charlotte Craven, who first proposed adoption of a citywide nonsmoking ordinance in the city, said she wants to get a smoking ban on the books because it is a health matter and out of concern for nonsmokers.
Laws restricting smoking have been adopted by four other Ventura County cities--Moorpark, Ojai, Thousand Oaks and Ventura--as well as by the county Board of Supervisors.
In an interview before the meeting, Dorothy Walden, owner of Dorothy's Chuckwagon, a small cafe on east Ventura Boulevard, said approval of the less restrictive ordinance would mean that she would not have to bear the expense of creating separate nonsmoking areas or installing separate ventilation systems.
Walden said she stands to loose a large portion of her customers if the more restrictive ordinance had been passed by the council.
"Just the early mentions of a possible smoking ban in the newspapers made me lose customers," Walden said. "I figure that when this whole the started I was losing $100 a day and for a restaurant of my size, that's a big deal."
Walden said she would prefer an ordinance that would effectively let business owners decide for themselves whether to allow smoking, and then hang an appropriate sign outside the establishment.
But Camarillo resident Linda Butcher, who is also a school nurse for the Oxnard Union High School District, said before the meeting that the only way to assure nonsmokers that they will not be affected by second-hand smoke is through the council's passage of the tougher ordinance.
Such a law should include imposing complete bans on smoking in restaurants and in bingo parlors, because many nonprofit groups use school facilities for bingo fund-raisers during off hours.
"I think it is appalling that smoking is allowed to take place on public school campuses," said Butcher, a member of the Camarillo Voters for Health Coalition. "It does not matter how much money is raised in bingo, it's the message we are sending to the students."