Enforcing the ban

A citywide ban on smoking at parks and beaches has been going well on the beaches of La Jolla, but enforcement of the ban at city golf courses may have never gotten out of the clubhouse.

The City Council approved the ban on cigarette smoking at city parks and beaches in June 2006. The idea for the ordinance in San Diego began in La Jolla, where representatives of the American Heart Association presented it to local government groups.

After the La Jolla Town Council and La Jolla Shores Association voted in favor of it, City Council President Scott Peters decided to try to get the ordinance passed citywide.

Peters believed that it was best if the rules were uniform, as opposed to the rules about drinking on the beach, which are varied throughout the city and can be confusing for tourists and residents alike. Peters and City Councilmember Jim Madaffer formally proposed the ordinance, arguing that it would be beneficial in terms of public health, environmental protection and fire safety and in reducing litter from discarded cigarette butts.

Many people questioned how the ban would be enforced. Proponents argued that if the ban were well-publicized, most smokers would be willing to comply and citizens could largely police themselves. Lifeguards were also expected to help keep smokers on the beach aware of the ordinance.

In the months since the ordinance went into effect in August 2006, that system seems to be working on the beaches.

“By and large, the word got out and people have been willing to comply,” said lifeguard Lt. Greg Buchanan. “It’s been smooth, not a big deal.”

Buchanan said that if a lifeguard sees someone on the smoking on the beach, they inform the person of the new law. People typically comply quickly. He said lifeguards are occasionally asked by beachgoers for help with someone on the beach who is smoking.

“Sometimes there are people asking guards for help with someone who is smoking,” Buchanan said. “But for the most part, people are self-policing. It’s been amicable.”

Lifeguards, police officers and park rangers have the authority to issue citations for those who violate the ordinance, with a first offense carrying a $250 fine. Penalties for subsequent infractions can reach up to $1,000 at the discretion of the officer.

San Diego Fire and Lifeguard Service spokesman Maurice Luque wrote in an e-mail that lifeguards should give warnings before issuing citations.

“Citations have only been used as a last resort, when there has been downright defiance of the ban,” Luque said. “Preliminary feedback from lifeguards is that the ban is working. They estimate 95 percent compliance with no push-back on enforcement efforts.”

Luque said only five citations have been issued since the ban went into effect.

The ban also applies to municipal golf courses, including La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Golf Course. Golfers were upset that the new rule would put an end to the time-honored tradition of lighting up a cigar on the golf course, but golfers report that nothing has changed since the rule was put into effect.

“It isn’t (being enforced),” golfer Gus Lopes said. “I play here twice a week, and a lot of the people I play with are smokers. I haven’t seen anybody trying to enforce it.”

Signs announcing the smoking ban are posted near the start of the course and near the practice green, but Lopes said he thinks many golfers on the course aren’t even aware of the rule.

“A lot of the people who play here are tourists, so they might not even know about it,” he said.

Lopes said there is hardly enough staff to enforce the rules of the course and that the smoking ban is being ignored.

“I think they’re just turning their heads,” he said. “It’s hard to get a marshall to enforce the speed of play, let alone a no smoking rule.”

City golf department officials did not return a call seeking comment.

Proponents of the smoking ban also claimed that it would help beautify city parks and beaches by cutting down on cigarette butts and other smoking-related waste. Lifeguard Lt. Buchanan said he hasn’t noticed the beaches getting markedly cleaner since the ban went into effect, but that it couldn’t hurt.

“I’m all for anything we can do for clean beaches,” he said.

Peters said the program has been a success and expressed gratitude that the public has been respectful in observing and helping enforce the ban.

“Our parks and beaches help define our quality of life in La Jolla,” Peters said. “My thanks to the residents and visitors who respect and enforce our no-smoking ordinance and to everyone who has helped make this program such a success.”