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Smoking Ban Issue Smoldering in Pasadena; Long Beach Stays Cool

July 29, 1993|EDMUND NEWTON and RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

With charges of back-room deal-making sailing around Pasadena City Hall like cruise missiles, city officials were trying to figure out Wednesday whether a new ban on smoking in restaurants will stand.

The measure was approved by a divided City Council on Tuesday after a lengthy debate and several failed attempts to agree on how broad the law should be.

But a rancorous dispute over whether council members had violated the state's Brown Act, which forbids private meetings by a quorum of a local legislative body, is taking some of the gloss off of the victory for anti-smoking activists.

"It's sour grapes," said former Councilman Jess Hughston, a leading anti-smoking activist who had pressed for a smoking ban for two years. "The two men who were most strongly against (the ban) are charging Brown Act violations."

In Long Beach, the City Council gave final approval early Wednesday to an ordinance that bans smoking in restaurants and requires that two-thirds of the seating in bars and outdoor eating areas be reserved for nonsmokers.

It also makes cafeterias, bowling alleys, bingo parlors, hair salons, hotel lobbies and other public places smoke-free. Cigarette vending machines will be prohibited in areas open to people under the age of 21. The ordinance, which takes effect Aug. 28, provides for a minimum $50 fine for violations.

Although the issue generated little heat in Long Beach, it caused an uproar in Pasadena, with various council members maneuvering to exempt bars and entertainment establishments, such as pool halls and nightclubs.

After three versions of the measure failed to win a majority vote, Vice Mayor Kathryn Nack called for a brief recess and five of the seven council members disappeared into the offices behind the council chambers. When they returned 15 minutes later, a majority quickly approved a ban that covered restaurants but exempted all bars for a year.

"When the new motion was introduced, there was no debate, no discussion; it just slid right through," said Councilman William Paparian, who had voted against previous measures as being too onerous to bar patrons.

Paparian and Councilman Isaac Richard, another opponent of the ban, subsequently accused their colleagues of having violated the Brown Act. Both said they had seen four of their colleagues--a quorum of the seven-person council--discussing the smoking measure in an anteroom behind the chambers.

"I warned everybody not to go in the back room to cut a deal and come back and vote on it," Paparian said.

Other council members denied that there was a back-room meeting. Mayor Rick Cole, who proposed the final version of the measure, said he had discussed it only with Councilmen Chris Holden and Bill Crowfoot during the break.

Cole said that Nack may have been present briefly in the anteroom but that she was not participating in the discussion. An uncompromising smoking opponent, Nack voted against the final measure as not being tough enough.

The council directed City Atty. Victor Kaleta to interview the participants and determine if there had been a Brown Act violation, which could make the new ordinance vulnerable to a challenge from any interested party.

"I have to determine if there was collective concurrence by four people before the vote," Kaleta said Wednesday.

If he were to make such a finding, the city attorney added, the violation could be "cured" by repeating the vote after holding all pertinent discussions in public.

With Councilman William E. Thomson Jr. absent last week, the council deadlocked on the measure, 3 to 3. On Tuesday, Thomson announced that he would support a ban that would protect diners but not penalize bar patrons. His presence set off a flurry of maneuvering, with council members proposing a series of different options in attempts at winning majority support.

"I feel like I'm playing poker here," said Richard, the council's only smoker and its most vehement opponent of the ban.

Some city officials were concerned Wednesday that the ban could still be vulnerable to a well-financed campaign by the tobacco industry, whose representatives have been notably absent from Pasadena in recent months.

"The only thing that worries me," said Deborah Sherwood, head of the city's Tobacco Control Program, "is that the tobacco people could come in and pay people to stand on street corners and in shopping malls to collect signatures on a petition."

Under state law, 10% of the city's voters could petition for a referendum on the anti-smoking measure within 30 days of the council vote. A successful petition campaign would force a referendum election within 88 days.

Los Angeles' anti-smoking measure was put on hold last Saturday when a coalition of restaurateurs filed petitions with more than 96,000 signatures of voters opposed to the ban. The measure is expected to be on the June, 1994, city ballot.

If there are no challenges to Pasadena's law, it could go into effect by mid-September, Kaleta said.

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