Calabasas did it. Then Santa Monica did it, too. And now, Beverly Hills once home to such famous smokers as Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra also may ban smoking in restaurant patios and perhaps other outdoor places.
A Beverly Hills city councilman has proposed that the city look into drafting a smoking ban ordinance, with a focus on the several dozen outdoor restaurant patios within city limits.
But unlike 20 years ago when the city first tried to ban smoking inside restaurants, the news hasn't caused an uproar from local restaurant owners fearful of losing business from smoking customers. While they don't want to see a city-imposed ban, several restaurant owners say they are resigned to it.
"I oppose it, but I've been through other smoking bans enough that I don't think it's going to damage us," said Larry Nicola, owner of Nic's restaurant and bar at the corner of Canon Drive and Little Santa Monica Boulevard.
In the past, restaurant owners frequently spoke out against locally imposed smoking bans, saying customers that want to smoke would simply light up in restaurants in neighboring cities. That was a major reason why Beverly Hills' first attempt at banning smoking inside restaurants in the 1980s ended in failure; only when the state stepped in with its own law did smoke disappear from restaurant rooms in Beverly Hills.
But after Calabasas banned outdoor smoking last March, other cities have followed suit, including Santa Monica and Long Beach. It's widely expected that other cities such as West Hollywood, Culver City and even Los Angeles will eventually pass their own versions of outdoor smoking bans. Indeed several coastal cities have already banned smoking from beaches, citing both health and pollution concerns.
"This is going to sweep all over the nation," said Shalom Berkman, co-owner of Urth Caffe, a local restaurant chain with a focus on healthy fare. Berkman, who said he personally opposes city-imposed smoking bans, said Urth Caffe instituted its own patio smoking ban at its three restaurants in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood a few months ago.
"Even though we had a lot of smokers before we took this action, it's working very well for us," Berkman said. "We haven't seen a drop in business."
Indeed, that is part of the reason why Beverly Hills City Councilman Barry Brucker proposed the outdoor smoking ban at a council study session earlier this month. The City Council has set up an ad-hoc committee to study the concept and make recommendations to the full council in the next few weeks.
The other reason Brucker cited was that the city has received growing numbers of complaints from non-smokers, especially after the release in February of a state Air Resources Board report that classified second-hand smoke as a toxic air contaminant.
"I expect that if we pass this, patrons who want to eat outside but do not want to be exposed to second-hand smoke will flock to these restaurants," Brucker said.
The proposal is still being worked out; it's unclear what areas would be off limits to smokers. The emphasis is on restaurant patios, but smoking could be banned in some other places. Beverly Hills already bans smoking in parks.
Unlike the ban in Calabasas, however, this one would exclude patios or courtyards surrounded by the restaurant, such as at Spago and Caffe Roma on Canon Drive, where frequent cigar-chomping patrons including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can be found.
Smoking would be banned, however, at patios that abut sidewalks. It's easier for the city to regulate those patios, Brucker said, because those patios are on city-owned street easements.
However, the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce which has yet to take an official position on the proposal is concerned that a ban on outdoor patio smoking could deter tourists from eating in the city.
"Many international and domestic tourists smoke when they are on vacation," said Anita Zusuman Eddy, director of economic development for the Beverly Hills Chamber.
The owner of the prominent Crustacean restaurant on Little Santa Monica Boulevard agreed, noting that many Japanese tourists frequent her restaurant and relish the opportunity to smoke on the restaurant's outdoor patio.
"I believe that banning smoking on outdoor patios would harm my business," Elizabeth An said. "We are highly reliant on tourism."
But An appears to be in the minority of owners of restaurants with outdoor patios. More common is the view that restaurant owners will simply have to take the ban in stride and learn to live with it.
"Sure, restaurant owners will be upset, but if the ban happens, they will get over it, just as they have past bans," Nic's owner Nicola said.
Nicola even pointed to one side benefit of a smoking ban: "Whenever a smoking ban takes effect, it's actually easier to run a cleaner restaurant. No smoke to filter out. No ashtrays to clean out. No butts to pick up off the floor."
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