A proposed Santa Monica city ordinance to make businesses liable for patrons who smoke on their outdoor premises is meeting some resistance from the business community.

Like Calabasas, Beverly Hills and Burbank, Santa Monica already has a year-old law banning smoking in outdoor dining areas. People who light up are subject to a $250 fine, which rises to $500 for repeat offenders. But unlike those other cities, Santa Monica does not impose penalties on restaurant operators or other businesses that are found to permit smoking in their outdoor areas.

Faced with a rising number of complaints from citizens who say some businesses are openly flouting the law by allowing outdoor smoking, City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie has proposed that the City Council amend the ordinance to add that businesses that "knowingly allow" smokers to light up should be forced to pay penalties. The exact level of fines has yet to be determined.

Besides making the anti-smoking law easier to enforce, the City Attorney's Office argues that "business liability would help level the playing field for local restaurants by assuring that none can cater to a smoking clientele."

But the city's two main business organizations have not come on board with the proposed ordinance, with each expressing concerns in letters to the City Council, which is due to take up the anti-smoking proposal at its Tuesday meeting.

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce's main concern is the lack of a marketing and education program that alerts people to the ban on smoking in outdoor areas. When Beverly Hills passed its ordinance this summer, that city budgeted $150,000 for such a program.

"A lack of funding to educate residents, visitors and businesses on the proposed changes will place an undue burden on the business owners and managers expected to comply," the chamber's government affairs director, Samantha O'Neil, said in the letter.

The chamber also expressed concerns about the impact the ordinance might have on tourism, especially overseas visitors.

The Bayside District Corp., which operates the popular Third Street Promenade, said it generally supports the idea, but it has problems with the proposal as worded because it might expose operators to liability who can't confront smoking patrons fast enough to avoid a citation from undercover enforcement officials.

Bayside District Executive Director Kathleen Rawson said in the organization's letter to the council that the ordinance should only apply to restaurant owners and bar operators who "intentionally facilitate smoking" in outdoor dining areas.

More Smoking

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is also scheduled on Tuesday to take up a proposed tobacco retailer licensing fee program.

Earlier this year, the board told county health officials to develop a program to levy a fee on tobacco retailers to generate funds to crack down on underage smoking. After opting against a sliding scale fee, the Department of Public Health came up with a sum of $235 per establishment.

That fee will go into effect next spring and would impact an estimated 1,000 tobacco retailers in the unincorporated area of the county, raising $235,000 a year for the inspection and enforcement program.

According to a Department of Public Health staff report, 12 of the county's 88 cities have similar licensing programs, including Los Angeles and Pasadena.

Diesel Generators

Local air-quality regulators are going after operators of emergency backup generators with a proposed rule to reduce diesel emissions during routine testing and maintenance.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District last week held a workshop on proposed Rule 1472, which would impact an estimated 550 facilities in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties that have at least three emergency stand-by generators of at least 50 horsepower in strength. According to AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood, the types of facilities include hospitals, commercial buildings and large apartment complexes.

The rule would not in any way restrict the generators from running in emergency situations when the power is out. Instead, it targets the mandatory testing and maintenance of the generators. If the generators exceed the emissions threshold allowed in their operating permits, the facility operator must take steps to reduce emissions. Atwood said the operators would have several options, including reducing the number of hours the generators are tested, installing diesel particulate traps or replacing the diesel engine inside the generator with one using cleaner-burning fuel.

"We're trying to chip away at this problem of cancer risk from diesel particulate emissions and this is one step among many," Atwood said.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com , or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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