Santa Barbara appears on its way to becoming mostly smoke-free, with the city’s ordinance committee on Tuesday recommending that smoking be banned at beaches, parks, trails, sports fields, Stearns Wharf, and parking lots, among other public places. Vaping would also be prohibited.
The ordinance committee, composed of councilmembers Randy Rowse, Frank Hotchkiss, and Cathy Murillo, voted 2-1 to update the city’s 14-year-old smoking laws with the new restrictions, with Hotchkiss dissenting. Their recommendation will soon go to the full city council for a final vote. But before it does, the committee will hold a separate hearing on whether to ban smoking in the outdoor seating areas of bars and restaurants.
In her presentation Tuesday, assistant city administrator Nina Johnson noted the multiple Stearns Wharf fires that have been caused by discarded cigarettes, and she talked about the thousands of butts collected during annual beach cleanups. Penny Owens with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper said volunteers picked up more than 12,000 during a recent one-day event. Johnson explained that the city’s smoking ordinance is out of sync with state law and is overall far too lenient, according to the American Lung Association. The city received a “D” grade during the health agency’s latest assessment of individual communities’ smoking laws.
Johnson also stated that many Southern California coastal cities, including San Luis Obispo and Carpinteria, take the approach of banning smoking essentially everywhere except in designated areas. She suggested Santa Barbara could do the same.
Hotchkiss said he was hesitant to alienate 11,000-plus city smokers by blocking their access to so many public places. “I don’t want to disenfranchise smokers because they are the minority,” he said. Hotchkiss was also dubious that so many butts are sifted out of the sand each year. “I don’t go down there and shuffle through butts,” he said. Plus, he went on, banning smoking in parks will have little impact — many of the people who smoke there are homeless and won’t follow new rules.
Currently, the only locations where the city prohibits smoking are in public service areas like bus stops and ATMs, and at multi-unit housing complexes operated by the Housing Authority. Smoking is allowed on 25 percent of outdoor dining patios before 10 p.m., and then anywhere on dining patios after 10 p.m. It’s permitted in the outdoor areas of bars any time of day or night. Smoking has already been banned at places like SBCC, UCSB, Earl Warren Showgrounds, Paseo Nuevo, El Paseo, and the zoo.
For nearly an hour on Tuesday, the ordinance committee heard from bar and restaurant owners concerned about stricter smoking rules. “If smoking is banned on patios, then yes we would lose customers,” said Wildcat Lounge owner Bob Stout. “I understand secondhand smoke is bad, but I have to stick up for customers, residents, and tourists who enjoy having a cigarette.”
Pete Degenhardt, owner of Elsie’s Tavern, worried about the impact on tourism, as many Europeans enjoy smoking on beaches and where they eat and drink. “Tourists being stopped by police is not going to foster joyful memories,” he said.
Rowse assured the speakers that no final decision was being made, and that the committee will take up the topic again in the coming months. So far, City Hall has received more 120 letters and emails from the public on the subject, some in favor of the ban, many against it.