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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
Stoked on Stogies: Annie Preece and Michael Lombardo on Pacific Avenue

Snuffed Out in Santa Cruz

City leaders look to end smoking downtown and on the beach.

By Curtis Cartier

IT WOULD be easy to argue that the freedom to smoke is a major tenet of Santa Cruz's social philosophy. But then you'd have to be more specific about what it is that's being smoked. Because unless it's the "wacky" variety of tobaccy, then quite the opposite seems true, as city leaders are looking to take another major swipe at tobacco smokers by banning smoking on Pacific Avenue downtown, around Main Beach and on the Municipal Wharf.

"We've been getting complaints about smoking for a long time," says Councilmember Ryan Coonerty, who helped draft the proposed ordinance that was voted on Tuesday by the Santa Cruz City Council, after Santa Cruz Weekly's print deadline. "We looked at other cities that have banned it and it seems the people really want something done."

The move comes less than four months after the same council stiffened rules on tobacco-serving hookah parlors, setting limits on how many can be established and where they can set up shop. And barring a change of heart by a majority of councilmembers, by the time this article hit stands, this latest measure will have likely been passed.

For some shop owners like Joe Williams of Dell Williams Jewelers on Pacific Avenue, the ban is "totally necessary" and will be a major improvement to his working atmosphere, which, he says, is constantly bombarded by secondhand smoke from patrons of the nearby Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co. But others, especially restaurant and club owners, say that a ban on smoking will cripple business downtown, forcing smokers to find other areas of the city to spend their much-needed dollars.

"It's a completely asinine idea," says Fred Friedman, manager of the Blue Lagoon Cocktail Lounge. "The city's already in deep financial trouble, and this will only add to its financial woes. It will hurt every business downtown, from the theaters to the nightclubs to the cafes to the stores. No one avoids downtown because people are smoking outside. The city has a responsibility to all its citizens, not just a small vocal amount that believe smoking is wrong."

The wheels of the ban began rolling back in March when councilmembers Coonerty and Don Lane, along with Vice Mayor Mike Rotkin, formed a task force charged with investigating public smoking issues and coming up with new protective legislation. It was these six months' worth of outreach, which included public hearings and consultations with anti-smoking advocates, health professionals and local business owners, that Coonerty says proved "overwhelmingly" that stricter laws were needed.

"There really hasn't been a lot of opposition to the ban," says Coonerty, "and for the most part, people understand that it's a problem and are ready to change things."

Besides the issue of secondhand smoke, city leaders hope the ordinance will help cut down on litter from cigarette butts. On the beach, cigarette butts are an arch-nemesis of environmental groups like Save Our Shores and the Surfrider Foundation, which routinely pick up thousands of the slowly decomposing butts from the sands. Indeed, it's the butts and not the smoke that seems to draw the most ire of downtown shop owners.

"Thank God for the Hope Services folks that come around and sweep up the butts every day," says Sonja Brunner, general manager at Old School Shoes on Pacific Avenue. "I'd say we only occasionally get smoke that wafts in, so for me the biggest issue is definitely the butts."

Brunner, however, still says that an outright ban is a bit "extreme." Her attitude proves in line with a majority of downtown shop owners, managers and clerks interviewed by Santa Cruz Weekly, including Linnaea Holgers of Artisans Gallery, Derek Olsen of Kiantis Pizza & Pasta Bar, John Blake of Palace Art & Office Supply, Jared Johnson of the Parlor Salon, Richard Dellis of Union Grove Music, Lisa Harris of La Playa Gift Shop, Linda Hutchison of the Asti Bar and Rebecca Moore of Eco Goods, all of whom contend that a ban on smoking is unnecessary.

"I think the issue is really about people standing around outside the stores," says Moore.

The smokers themselves, unsurprisingly, are mostly opposed to the ban. Between drags of a Camel cigarette outside Rosie McCann's Irish Pub, local resident Michael Lombardo says he has as much of a right to smoke as anyone else has to demand clean air. Yet one smoker seemed to toe the line between wanting the freedom to enjoy his American Spirit cigs and wanting downtown Santa Cruz to be cleaned up.

"As a smoker, I actually think the ban is a great idea," says Mike van Leynseele, popping an unlit cigarette back into his pack. "I think maybe it will help save me from myself."

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