First, smoking was banned in eating areas. Then it was banned in bars. Now a proposal by the Los Angeles City Council to extinguish smoking on patios has some local restaurant owners fuming.

Already, other cities such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Burbank have enacted comparable outdoor bans. That said, L.A.’s ban would be of greater significance to the nationwide restaurant industry as the city’s regulatory decisions have long been seen as precedent setting for other major metro areas.

City Councilman Greig Smith introduced the motion to ban outdoor smoking at restaurants in early 2008. The proposal has undergone various changes by a city committee over the last 18 months and in cooperation with representatives of the restaurant industry.

The ordinance is scheduled for a council vote this month, and is expected to pass. Councilman Tom LaBonge, a proponent of the ordinance, said he believes he has enough support on the council for adoption.

Although many restaurants oppose the ordinance, members of the California Restaurant Association decided that it would be a losing battle to fight it, so instead the association negotiated some exemptions for events and other special cases. The association has a neutral position on the ordinance.

Under provisions negotiated with the association, bars, private events and nightclubs serving customers older than 18 would be exempt from the rule.

Some restaurant owners that have outdoor patios along trendy avenues and neighborhoods believe the ordinance will drive away their smoking customers.

“Business is already down 25-30 percent and now the city wants to tell my customers what they can or can’t do while in an outdoor setting,” said Nicolas Meschin, co-owner of Little Door, a West L.A. Mediterranean cuisine restaurant with a large outdoor patio that offers both smoking and nonsmoking sections. “I think this is a stupid time to pass something like this.”

Madelyn Alfano, owner of the Maria’s Italian Kitchen chain of nine locations, and a board member of both the statewide and L.A. chapter of the California Restaurant Association, said the regulation seems unnecessary. Alfano’s downtown L.A. location has a large patio.

“I have a lot of clientele that come from other countries where smoking is part of the culture,” Alfano said. “I’m not a smoker and wouldn’t want it inside my restaurant, but to say that air pollution is a major concern from outdoor smoking is ridiculous when you have buses and trucks spewing pollution while driving by my outdoor patios all the time.”

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