Ban for beaches, parks merits approval

May 24, 2006

They are San Diego's most important economic assets – the core of our tourist economy. They are also the foundation of our sunshine lifestyle and the most visible symbols of who we are as a community. They are our beaches and public parks. And a San Diego City Council committee can act today to make these treasures even more valuable.

The council's Natural Resources and Culture Committee, chaired by Councilwoman Donna Frye, this afternoon will consider an ordinance that deserves swift approval. Proposed early this year by Councilman Jim Madaffer and council President Scott Peters, it would prohibit smoking on city beaches and in public parks. Violations could be charged as an infraction punishable by a fine up to $250 for a first offense, or more seriously as a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and six months in jail.

The ordinance is supported by a long list of public health and environmental organizations, as well as town councils and other groups. It is part of a rapidly growing movement in California to clamp down on smoking in the interest of improving public health, preventing pollution and increasing fire safety. Solana Beach was the first city in the state to adopt a beach-and-parks smoking ban. Del Mar, El Cajon, Encinitas, Imperial Beach and National City have followed suit with their own smoking bans for beaches or parks or both. La Mesa, Carlsbad, Oceanside and Poway are all considering similar ordinances. The Metropolitan Transit System board banned smoking at trolley and bus stops. Petco Park is now smoke-free and even venerable institutions such as the San Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park and Sea World have quietly tightened restrictions on smoking in the past year.

But it is San Diego, with its 17 miles of beaches and 38,918 acres of public parks, where such an ordinance is most needed.

Reliable calculations estimate there are 2.1 million cigarettes smoked in San Diego every day. Many of those cigarette butts are subsequently flicked from car windows or dropped to the ground in irresponsible disregard of litter laws, fire safety and good citizenship.

The cost to the city of implementing the ordinance would be negligible: 1,000 no-smoking signs at about $17 each and 2,000 trash can stickers at about 40 cents each. Even San Diego can afford that.

And, while only police or lifeguards would be empowered to issue citations against violators, all indications are that the 85 percent of San Diegans who don't smoke would enforce it themselves. In a memo to Frye earlier this month, Police Chief William Lansdowne said that in other cities with similar ordinances “the common practice of all jurisdictions is for warnings and self-regulation on the part of the populace.” He added that “the vast majority of citizens voluntarily comply, and the impact to police and lifeguards is minimal.”

It's time for San Diego to join the smoke-free crowd. Our beaches and parks, not to mention the public health, are worth it.