Owners of restaurants in Beverly Hills are calling for a softer no-smoking ordinance, even though the City Council in July lifted a tough smoking ban that had drawn national attention.
Restaurant owners are calling on the city to eliminate newly imposed requirements for installing walls and ventilation devices designed to keep smoke from entering non-smoking sections of dining areas. They say the systems are expensive and will lead to a loss of seats and profits.
"A lot of restaurants think this is over," Rudy Cole, spokesman for the 60-member Beverly Hills Restaurant Assn., said of the no-smoking law. "They are not expecting what's about to hit them."
He said the group this week will draw up a written response to amendments to the no-smoking ordinance. The response will be presented at a council meeting Oct. 13.
The city's amended law permits separate smoking sections in restaurants that install the ventilation systems. Last week, the council approved a series of technical standards for installing the devices, including a requirement for solid walls or so-called "air curtains" to separate smoking and non-smoking sections. It also voted to allow alternate ventilation systems as long as they meet city standards.
The restaurant group opposes the air curtains but favors filter systems that remove smoke from the air. The filters are easier to install and do not require eliminating seats, Cole said. They also are cheaper, ranging from $1,500 to $2,500 contrasted with several hundred dollars to $25,000 for the air curtains.
City officials argue that the filters alone are not sufficient to keep smoke from drifting to non-smoking sections.
Beverly Hills previously prohibited smoking in all restaurants seating more than 50 customers, except bars, lounges, private banquet rooms and restaurants in hotels.
Clean-air advocates praised the ban as one of the toughest in the nation but were disappointed when the council in July struck a compromise with restaurant owners and permitted separate sections for smokers.
In addition to eliminating seats, Cole said, the law would create a burden for restaurants seating fewer than 50 customers, which are exempt from having ventilation systems but are still required to prove that they in fact do not seat more than 50 customers and that smoking will not be permitted in more than 50% of dining areas.
"These are very technical questions," Cole said. "Restaurants are used to preparing veal, not setting up air-conditioning systems that are new and different from what they already have."
The city's 60 restaurants seating more than 50 customers have until Dec. 15 to submit plans for installing the ventilation systems and will have until Jan. 15 of next year to draw up new plans if the city rejects the original ones. The systems must be in place by June 15, 1988.
Restaurants may not create smoking sections until they have submitted ventilation plans and have filed floor plans showing that smoking will be restricted to 50% of dining areas.
The complaints have angered Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury Jr., who accused the restaurants of raising a "smoke screen" to delay complying with the law.
"I think the restaurant association's manager (Cole) has been (obstructive)," he said. "I think that is not a good policy. I think it has basically hurt them and lost them business."
Stansbury said the restaurants are not justified in complaining that the no-smoking requirements will cut into their profits, since public opinion polls show that most Americans do not smoke and prefer a smoke-free environment.
"I think the restaurant owners mistakenly believe their business depends on smokers," he said. "They have put themselves in a position where they have driven the non-smokers away. I think that's a tactical error."
Stansbury said at a City Council study session last week that restaurant owners showed disdain for the smoking restrictions when they submitted a batch of about 40 floor plans sloppily drawn on paper napkins and paper plates. Although the plans need not be professional, he said, they are supposed to be drawn to scale and should include dimensions.
"It doesn't have to be anybody hiring an architect," he said. "That's a bunch of baloney and a smoke screen."
So far, only 16 floor plans of the more than 40 submitted have been approved, said Mark Scott, director of environmental services for the city. Many of the remaining restaurants are violating the law by allowing smoking even though they have not submitted plans or their plans have been rejected, he said.
The city in the next few weeks will begin cracking down on the violators by sending out inspectors and handing out citations and fines, Scott said.
But, he said, "we're not going to do that until we've given them a nice, soft reminder. We like these people."