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Mission Viejo's Smoking Ban Will Be Watered Down

September 17, 2002|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After listening to hours of emotional testimony from residents, the Mission Viejo City Council on Monday backed down from adopting a measure that would have been one of the toughest anti-smoking ordinances in the nation.

The proposal would have prohibited smoking in city buildings, grounds and public parks. Using tobacco would have been outlawed inside city-owned cars and any property leased by the city, including the local YMCA.

Instead, the council voted 3-2 to have city staff draft a less-restrictive ordinance that conforms to state law, which prohibits smoking in public buildings and on public playgrounds, but allows smoking in parks.

"I'll do anything I can to support public health within the bounds of fairness for all concerned, but this goes beyond what state law requires, and I will not be supporting this ordinance," said Councilman William S. Craycraft, who voted in favor of re-drafting the ordinance.

Council members Craycraft, Gail Reavis and John Paul Ledesma voted in favor of considering a less-restrictive smoking ban.

Mayor Susan Withrow and Councilwoman Sherri M. Butterfield voted in favor of the tougher ordinance.

A final debate and vote on the ordinance is expected in a few weeks.

Monday's public hearing lasted well into the evening, with most Mission Viejo residents testifying in favor of the ban. Critics charged that the council was going too far, taking on the role of "Big Brother" by trying to legislate personal behavior.

"I'm a smoker, and I smoke like a chimney. I will adapt, just like I have with every other smoking ordinance," said Michelle Clark, 40, who spoke in favor of the restrictions.

"To ensure good quality of life for other residents is a good thing," she said. "Smoking is a bad thing. I know it."

Hamid Bahadori, who said he doesn't smoke, objected to the proposed prohibition, telling council members that they were overstepping their authority. "The role of government is to provide a balance between social welfare and individual freedom. This ordinance tilts that balance."

California bans smoking in the workplace, as well as inside bars and restaurants, and several California cities have imposed stricter bans on smoking in areas that attract children.

Bob West, a former resident of North Carolina, the country's biggest tobacco-producing state, said he's happy be living in such a progressive area.

"I believe smoking is an intrusion on others," he said. "One of things I like best about California is its nonsmoking stand. This law would just be one of the many benefits to living in California."

Last year, the California Legislature passed a law banning smoking on playgrounds. A bill that would expand that by outlawing smoking within 25 feet of playgrounds is before Gov. Gray Davis, according to Paul Knepprath vice president for government relations for the American Lung Assn.

Several city councils--including those in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and San Fernando--have expanded smoke free-areas in parks, restrictions that go beyond the state limits.

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Times staff writer Paul Duginski contributed to this report.

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