In a smoke-filled gloom

As 19-year-old Jon Little crossed Magnolia Boulevard on Dec. 10, cigarette in hand, he failed to notice the police officer on Olive Avenue.

As he crossed the street, Little, a student at Antelope Valley College, was cited and fined $200 for smoking in Downtown Burbank, a violation of the citywide smoking ban that bars smoking on all sidewalks, alleys and other pedestrian areas Downtown, as well as on city property, including Chandler Bikeway and in parks.

“I was here to see a movie and had no idea there was a citywide ordinance,” he said. “This is an unreasonable law.”

The City Council passed the ordinance 3-2 in March. The ban took effect May 12, but Burbank Police didn’t begin enforcing the law until August. Since then, 301 people have been cited for violating the ordinance, Police Chief Tim Stehr said.

Though Burbank Police have cited more than 300 people since August, the department has not been bogged down by the added enforcement, Stehr said.

“It’s just one aspect of our job that indicates we are enforcing the law,” he said. “It’s not taking away from anything else. We have not seen a huge increase in response time because of the ordinance.”

The base fine for smoking in areas where lighting up is banned is $50, though that fine can be more than $200, Stehr said.

While police have been citing more smokers, the fines do not represent a financial windfall for the department or the city, he said.

“We get a very small percentage of [the fine],” he said. “We’re not out there making money.”

The city receives about 10% for each ticket, with the rest allocated to various court-assessed fees, Stehr said, though the exact amount of money the city and the court receive is incalculable.

“All fees from the smoking ordinance are lumped in with all other citations,” Principal Planner Michael Forbes said.

Other cities have also grappled with smoking bans in public places.

In 2006, smoking was banned in a number of outdoor places in Santa Monica, including the 3rd Street Promenade, beaches and the Santa Monica Pier.

Since the ban went into effect on Thanksgiving Day in 2006, more than 100 people have been cited, said the city’s consumer affairs specialist, Paula Rockenstein.

“It has been a success, though more work needs to be done,” she said.

The number of people cited in Calabasas, whose ban of smoking in public places went into effect in March, also pales in comparison to Burbank’s enforcement.

As of September, Calabasas has issued 240 warnings and 20 citations, said Michael Hafken, the city’s public information officer.

Still, Burbank Police say the number of citations officers write is exactly where it should be.

“We’re trying to balance both sides of the debate between people who think we’re not doing enough versus people who think we’re doing too much,” Sgt. Travis Irving said.

“Three-hundred tickets is really not that much. It doesn’t seem lacking or excessive.”

Enforcement aside, some residents are calling for an increase in education.

“You’ve got a lot of people who are truly ignorant of the law,” said Michael White, 47. “Writing tickets is one thing, but educating people is another. It’s not just a matter of citing people.”

To that end, officials opted for a more accurate anti-smoking sticker on doors and windows of Downtown businesses that would better reflect the law.

Old signs posted in business windows that said “No smoking within 20 feet of all entrances and exits” have been changed to read “No smoking in Downtown Burbank.”

“We realized it was leading to some confusion everywhere,” Forbes said.

“People were under the impression that as long as they moved 20 feet away, it was OK to smoke.”

City Hall also changed from the 20-feet sign to “No smoking on city property.”

“The feedback we’ve gotten is that the [new signs] send a better message,” Forbes said.

Embedded in the ordinance is an exception to the smoking ban for certain businesses that can apply for immunity for a section of their restaurant.

In Downtown, three establishments have applied for and received approval — Fantasia Billiard, Cafe Gitana and Café O’s — and another, Burbank Bar & Grill, applied for the exception but was denied, Forbes said, because it is primarily a restaurant.

“Burbank Bar & Grill applied and didn’t get it because they have a conditional-use permit that limits the function of their business to alcohol in conjunction with a restaurant,” he said. “Cafe Gitana and Café O’s are hookah bars, and Fantasia is a billiard hall with an exception for their outdoor dining area.”

For one restaurant, the exemption has not increased patronage.

The crowd hasn’t necessarily been larger,” said Momtse Orriols, who works at Café O’s. “We have maintained the same crowd.”

Officials are still mulling a public area Downtown where smoking could be permitted, but they haven’t found the right location.

“We have not designated an area because we haven’t found one we really think is appropriate where somebody would not be exposed,” City Manager Mary Alvord said.

“We looked at the alleys, but that’s how a lot of people enter Downtown.”


 JEREMY OBERSTEIN covers City Hall and public safety. He may be reached at (818) 637-3242 or by e-mail at jeremy.oberstein@ latimes.com.

Copyright © 2019, Burbank Leader
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°