Smoking Ban Catches New Fire in Rolling Hills : South Bay: Lighting up is allowed only inside homes. On the books since 1978, the law will now be enforced, officials say.
If you walk in Rolling Hills, don’t smoke. If you drive in Rolling Hills, don’t smoke. And if you sit in your own back yard in Rolling Hills, don’t smoke.
The gated South Bay community with a population of just under 2,000 may be the only place in America where people can smoke only inside their homes.
Although the ban has been in effect since 1978, enforcement has been loose. But now, city officials intend to get tough and strictly enforce the policy.
Since Thursday, visitors are being given yellow flyers alerting them that smoking is not allowed in the city if they are driving, walking or standing outside a building. No-smoking signs are posted at city gates.
City Manager Craig R. Nealis said the rule is based on a Los Angeles County code prohibiting smoking in areas considered to be a fire hazard. He maintains that the entire three-square-mile city, made up entirely of private homes on large wooded lots, is a fire hazard. Only City Hall, where smoking is also prohibited, lies outside the city gates.
National, state and county fire officials say they have never heard of another city with such a stringent policy.
“I don’t know where there is such a blanket prohibition on smoking,” said Jeff Shapiro, coordinator of the International Fire Code Institute, which is based in Austin, Tex.
Capt. Allen Gooch, with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, agreed.
“For someone to go into their back yard and not be able to fire up a cigar and watch the sunset, that seems very strict,” Gooch said. “I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m saying it’s strict.”
Rolling Hills officials cite past fires in the city, which is full of tree-lined streets without sidewalks, as the reason for the ban. A 1973 blaze sparked by fireworks destroyed 13 homes.
The City Council approved a plan to pass out the flyers after Mayor Pro Tem Godfrey Pernell recently spotted a gardener smoking while doing some landscaping.
“As I’m driving by, he lights up,” Pernell said. “It was the wrong time.”
Violators could be fined up to $1,000 and receive up to six months in jail, Assistant City Atty. Kevin Ennis said. Officials sent copies of the flyers to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and Fire departments, both of which serve the city, and asked that they be more vigilant in looking for code violators.
The community has declared itself a forested area, which allows it to ban smoking outside any building under state and county fire codes, Ennis said. But in the past, guards at the three city gates only warned people against smoking during fire season.
Sheriff’s deputies, who patrol the city, do not keep statistics on minor fire infractions but do not recall citing anyone for breaking the ban.
“We know that the law exists and we know some citations may be issued,” Sgt. Hector Zabala said. “If they are (smoking) on the front porch or the back porch, it depends on the circumstances. It might happen, and you might issue a citation for that.”
Rolling Hills, which sits on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and is surrounded by the cities of Rolling Hills Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes, was founded in 1936 as a dude ranch and incorporated as a city in 1957. The median selling price of a home this year is $1.2 million, according to a South Bay real estate service. Visitors may enter only with the permission of a resident or the community association, which maintains the winding streets and dirt trails. (The new flyer also warns visitors to obey the 25 m.p.h. speed limit and to “watch for horses.”)
Officials point to the city’s rural nature as one reason for the ban.
“There are no sidewalks. There are no street lights. There are peacocks running across the street,” said Nealis, the city manager.
Most visitors and residents passing through the city’s main gate Friday supported the smoking restrictions.
“It takes living up here to know what the ban means,” said Belinda L. Harris, 35, who lives in Los Angeles but was visiting her boss. “It is very dry up here.”
One resident did have some unkind words for the ban.
“I think it’s crud,” said Linda Luppo, who says she smokes but not in her house or her car because she doesn’t like the smell. The only place she enjoys a cigarette is outdoors. “If I spend this much money on my property, I figure I can go out on my own property and smoke a cigarette.”
Ennis, the assistant city attorney, said he is unaware of anyone who has challenged the city’s interpretation of the fire codes.
Thomas Lauria, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute in Washington, said he understood the need to prohibit smoking in areas such as hospitals, but questioned a ban that extended into private cars and back yards.
“Wait till the tobacco farmers in North Carolina hear about this one,” he said.
No Lighting Up
No smoking is allowed in Rolling Hills, a gated city of about 2,000. Local officials maintain that the city--with private homes on large, wooded lots--is a fire hazard, making the policy necessary.