Pacifica’s beaches will soon have fewer butts in the sand.
The City Council on Monday voted to create an ordinance banning smoking on Pacifica’s beaches and on its public pier, following the lead of the City of San Diego and Santa Cruz County. Advocates for the ban are now setting their sights on county beaches and would ultimately like to see it statewide.
"We’ve seen this abuse and been out there for years, and we know personally that cigarette butts are the No. 1 littered item," said Susan Danielson, the mentor of the College of San Mateo student-based, grassroots organization Citizens for Clean Open Spaces.
Pacifica is the first city on the Peninsula to actively ban smoking on its beaches. This past spring, San Mateo County enacted a ban on smoking in common areas of multiunit apartment buildings in unincorporated parts of the county, as well as within 30 feet of the perimeter of county buildings. Transit officials have also banned smoking in and around bus shelters and train stations, and Burlingame has banned smoking in some areas of public parks.
The trend toward smoking bans began with laws making restaurants smoke-free in the early 1990s, said Karen Licavoli, the co-chair of the San Mateo County Tobacco Education Program. The recently released Surgeon General’s report highlighting the negative effects of second-hand smoke is also adding support to such efforts.
"I think passing such policies is an important step in protecting public health because these types of policies change the norm about where it’s appropriate to smoke," Licavoli said.
That keeps city agencies, such as a police department, from being burdened with enforcement of such ordinances because people generallyadapt to what’s asked of them, she said.
Pacifica Police Chief Jim Saunders said education about the potential new ordinance would be key in beginning that transformation to a society that thinks it the norm to not smoke on beaches.
"We don’t anticipate that it’s going to effect us at all," Saunders said of any possible burden on the police department. "Once we educate people we really don’t have any issues with compliance."
Fifteen of the 30 named beaches in San Mateo County are state beaches, meaning that a statewide ordinance would be required to ban smoking on half of the county’s beaches — a difficult task against the political lobbying power of tobacco companies. Previous efforts by Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and others to put forward such a ban have failed to win approval.
Cities and the county manage the other beaches, Danielson said, and the multijurisdictional nature makes it much harder to advance these efforts. Nevertheless, their next focus will be on county beaches and an ordinance from county supervisors, she said.