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Smoking Ban Moves Outdoors

Times Staff Writer

As a pioneering public smoking ban went into effect Friday in Calabasas, enforcement came from a higher authority: Mother Nature.

A pouring rainstorm snuffed out renegade smokers’ cigarettes and sent them scurrying for cover as security guards began issuing warnings at the town’s main shopping center.

“You could get a $500 citation,” one of them advised Danielle Wakely of Westwood as she sat at an outside table at the Calabasas Commons mall and puffed on a Marlboro.

A moment earlier, shopper Erit Litvak had bummed a cigarette and a light from Wakely. She listened to the guard’s warning with her mouth agape.

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“I’m putting it out,” Litvak, of Tarzana, exclaimed. “Am I in trouble?”

Calabasas, an upscale suburb perched on the western edge of the San Fernando Valley, was generating international attention for what appears to be the nation’s first ban on smoking in all outdoor public spaces. Violators can be fined up to $500.

As the day wore on, smokers were playing a cat-and-mouse game with mall security. Cupping their cigarettes in their hands and hiding them under patio tables, they flipped them to the outdoor mall’s damp sidewalks when guards approached.

While many anti-smoking forces have cheered Calabasas on as it adopted its new municipal ordinance, the effort has met a decidedly mixed reaction within the 13.2-square-mile city.

Rain was pouring outside City Hall as Councilman Barry Groveman offered assurances that enforcement of what he diplomatically called the “secondhand smoke control ordinance” would be phased in gently. He had just finished fielding inquiries about the new law from reporters in Australia and Spain.

“We’re making it acceptable to ask what has been an uncomfortable question until now: ‘Would you please put that cigarette out?’ ” Groveman said. “We’re putting the force of law behind it.”

He noted that the city is trying to accommodate those who just must light up. The new ordinance allows property owners to apply to set up designated smoking areas outside businesses and offices. These must be at least 20 feet from entrances, walking paths or other areas where nonsmokers might be. So far, only two such areas exist, outside a Calabasas Road electronics firm and behind City Hall.

During Friday’s rainstorm, no one was using the City Hall smoking site next to a trash bin. Only one butt was visible in the ash tray.

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The new rules exempt residences, backyards, balconies and patios unless they are adjacent to common areas, laundry rooms or apartment complex walkways.

Not everyone at City Hall was rejoicing over the new law, however.

Calabasas graphic designer Roberta Iervolino was doing city data processing as part of a community service sentence she received for running a red light. She said she deplored the city’s draconian actions -- and felt they might say something more profound about the town.

“I’m not a smoker, but I think it’s horrible. This is a free country. I don’t think this is a good social trend,” she said as she sat around the corner from a sign that announced that the use of cellphones in City Hall is prohibited, except in designated areas.

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“I was running from my car to get here because it was raining. And as soon as I got in, a guy told me not to run,” Iervolino said. “I guess that’s the nature of the game around here. It’s ridiculous.”

Implementation of the law was something of a fluke, the woman who suggested it said Friday.

Calabasas High School graduate Margo Arnold, 19, said she was only asking for some sort of outdoor smoking controls for the Calabasas Commons mall when she addressed the City Council last June.

She and boyfriend Matt Segal, also 19, had been forced to change tables outside the Mi Piace restaurant because of chain smokers. Later, then-Mayor Groveman told her that her suggestion was something that might be applied citywide, Arnold said.

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Under the law, residents and municipal workers can report violations to the city, and the city attorney will determine whether to impose fines or other punishment.

There were no reported violations as of midafternoon Friday, officials said.

At the shopping center, the sun was peeking out and so were cagey smokers.

But nonsmoker Marshall Goldman, a high school chemistry and physics teacher who has lived in Calabasas for 30 years, opposes the new ordinance.

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“It is absurd -- there’s no secondhand smoke outside. I see no legal basis for this. You can’t legislate courtesy,” Goldman said.

Movie stunt coordinator George Fisher agreed.

“It’s all about being rude. If somebody’s offending someone else by smoking, they are being rude,” said Fisher, who said he smokes cigars in his Calabasas backyard, which he estimated is a quarter-mile from his neighbor’s house.

Alan Melina, a Calabasas music producer, praised the law. “It’s terrific. It’s a little over the top, but I like a smoke-free environment,” he said.

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Musician and composer Ray Parker Jr., best known for the “Ghostbusters” theme song, paused as he walked into the mall’s Starbucks. He said he was glad somebody had called smokers on their habit -- but was curious about how his city’s new law would be enforced.

“I don’t smoke and I’m happy you can go where there are no cigarettes. I choke out here when people are smoking. But you don’t have to shoot them for it,” Parker said.

The effect of the smoking ordinance was already wafting past city limits as the weekend approached. At the Sagebrush Cantina on Calabasas Road, general manager Charlie Halstead was fielding phone calls from nervous patrons wanting to know if smoking was still allowed on its sprawling patio.

The popular restaurant and bar is about six feet outside Calabasas -- just inside the Los Angeles city limits.

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“Everybody says, ‘Oh, thank goodness,’ ” Halstead said.

Back at City Hall, Councilman Groveman passed a gallery of vintage photos of Calabasas pioneers. One showed pioneer Samuel Cooper holding a giant, hand-rolled cigarette. A notation on the circa-1956 picture states that Cooper “died the next day.”

But Cooper probably wasn’t rolling over in his grave Friday, Groveman insisted.

“Samuel Cooper had no idea about the effects of secondhand smoke back then,” he said.

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