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Sunscreen? Check. Cigarettes? Sorry.

Solana Beach will soon become the first city in the state to ban smoking on the beach.

October 11, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SOLANA BEACH, Calif. — On the beach here you can sunbathe, surf some of the best waves in Southern California, and enjoy the picnic food of your choice. Tai-chi devotees do their morning exercises on the water's edge, and the weekend air is full of Frisbees and footballs.

What you can't do, at least after a new city ordinance takes effect next month, is smoke.

This upscale, health-conscious city (population 13,000) north of San Diego is on the verge of becoming the first in California -- maybe the continental U.S. -- to ban smoking on the beach.

The reasons are many: the look, the smell, the dangers of secondhand smoke, the accumulated cigarette butts in the sand. Add some pressure from local teenagers who feel protective toward the 1.4-mile long beach, and the City Council this week voted 5-0 to ban smoking on the beach and the city's public park.

"We're tired of our beach being an ashtray," said Councilman Joe Kellejian.

Two weeks ago the teenagers -- part of the Youth Tobacco Prevention Corps -- joined their elders in a daylong cleanup of the beach and nearby San Elijo Lagoon. Dozens of bags of trash were gathered and carted away.

The teens found that cigarette butts were the No. 1 type of trash. Nothing new there. In a previous cleanup more than 6,000 butts were collected in 60 minutes.

And so Solana Beach will join the famed Haunama Bay in Hawaii as a no-smoking zone.

The local chapter of the American Lung Assn. hopes Solana Beach is a trendsetter. The city prides itself for having been one of the first to ban smoking in restaurants, in advance of a state law. To the anti-smoking activists, the next frontier is the nation's beaches, parks and public patios.

"The time seems to be ripe for this," said Debra Kelley, the association's vice president.

The issue is not new to the beach communities. In 1987, voters in Del Mar turned down a smoking ban for that city's beaches. The political winds, however, have begun to shift.

The San Diego city attorney is developing a beach-smoking ordinance for the City Council to consider. The lung association would like the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park to ban outdoor smoking, but so far the answer has been no.

A zoo spokeswoman said that while the zoo and Wild Animal Park ban smoking in all lines and interior spaces, an overall ban does not seem enforceable without a civic ordinance to back it up. The park and zoo are on city property.

Encinitas and Del Mar, which border Solana Beach to the north and south, respectively, have also shown little interest in banning smoking on the beach.

"We'll keep after them," said Candice Porter, coordinator of the teen group.

In Solana Beach, to the delight of the lung association, the council opted for the toughest version of the ban, choosing not to designate smoking areas. Smoking will be forbidden on the sand, the water or even the parking lot at Fletcher Cove, the city's primary beach access.

At the council meeting, there were no objections. But as word of the ban has reached residents, there has been some grumbling.

"I thought the beach was a place where you were free to be yourself," said Lloyd Matlin, Solana Beach resident, "occasional smoker," and beach jogger. "I guess not. Government is everywhere."

Even some non-smokers feel the ban is a step too bold. "Another of our rights is being taken away," said surfer Milton Willis, his board under his arm as he headed to sea.

"You mean a surfer can't watch the sunset and enjoy a smoke even if there isn't anyone around? That's not right, man."

Officials admit enforcement will be minimal. Signs will be posted warning of a fine. Sheriff's deputies will not be pulled away from higher-priority duties. But if smokers refuse to comply, a crackdown is possible.

"If someone comes down to the beach where families congregate and wants to be a scofflaw, we'll probably have to cite that person," said Kellejian. "We'd be shirking our duty to the community otherwise."

The fine will probably be $50, the same as the fine for smoking in a restaurant, officials said.

Beyond health and visual concerns, the city has another reason to be worried about butts on the beach. Officials are concerned that the city could be fined by the Regional Water Quality Control Board if it doesn't stop cigarette remnants from washing into the ocean.

Everybody seems to have his own smoking story. Mayor Tom Golich remembers being repulsed when he was enjoying the beach with friends and a cigar-smoker strolled by.

"The whole beach was polluted by the smell," said Golich. "That really sticks in my mind."

And if the governor-elect, known to enjoy a cigar, ever comes to Solana Beach and ventures to the beach?

"We'll have to talk to Arnold about that," the mayor said.

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