Oh, West Hollywood. That fabulous little town of 36,000, jutting from between Beverly Hills and Hollywood proper, always insisting on blazing the trail for environmentally friendly bans while allowing big-time developers to convert a tight-knit community into two square miles of thick, urban downtown.
The five WeHo City Councilmembers have that flair for elegant density in common with the L.A. City Council (see LA Weekly expose "West Follywood"); now, the two cities may also share a restrictive outdoor smoking ban, like the one L.A. passed in January 2010 (Beverly Hills, too, for that matter). The ban comes before the council tonight.
While WeHo may have been first to outlaw the declawing of cats and probably the sale of animal fur, they're a little behind on a public no-smoking ordinance. But that doesn't mean the townspeople are taking it easy:
According to the WeHo Daily, 2011 City Council candidate Scott Schmidt held a Block the Ban happy-hour party last Friday night at Fiesta Cantina, and, as for this evening, "is asking people to attend the meeting on Monday at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium and to put in a comment card to speak out against the ban."
Like the glamorous nightlife kings (and queens) they are, the WeHo City Councilmembers don't meet until 6:30 p.m., and the no-smoking vote sits a ways down the agenda -- so bring reading material, or a vodka water bottle, or what have you.
Speaking of reading, might want to check out the proposed ordinance (4B on the meeting agenda) before decrying it at public comment. From the current draft:
"The smoking of tobacco, or any other weed or plant, is a positive danger to health and a material annoyance, inconvenience, discomfort and a health hazard to those who are exposed to the resulting smoke."
Uh... by weed do they mean... marijuana? It may be called weed, but it's certainly not a weed, in the uninvited-nuisance sense. Also, material annoyance? Huh?
The ban has been in the works since December 2009. Last July, during deliberations, the Weekly's resident WeHo expert, Patrick Range McDonald, had the following skepticisms:
At last week's meeting, according to WeHo News, task force members, who include bars owners and city officials, decided to create an outdoor smoking ban that would focus on establishments that serve minors under the age of 18.
Which is kind of funny -- only 6.4 percent of West Hollywood's nearly 36,000 residents are under the age of 19, with 88 percent 25 years old or older, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
It also brings up the question if the world-famous Abbey on Robertson Boulevard will somehow be dinged by the under-18 proposal -- during the day, kids are often seen eating lunch or a late breakfast with their parents after spending a few hours at nearby West Hollywood Park.
It appears the council still hasn't addressed those issues, because the conversation tonight will include these "outstanding items," according to the agenda:
- 1. Whether to exempt restaurants in private membership clubs.
- 2. Consider the process by which restaurants may create designated smoking areas, provided minimum requirements are met.
- 3. How to treat restaurants that have varying operating characteristics.
Two hundred WeHo restaurants would be subject to the ban.
However, Schmidt tells us the ordinance has seen a few changes since its inception. Bars and nightclubs have been taken off the list, and the council removed park benches and picnic tables from the definition of an outdoor dining area -- a bit strange. So now public smoking will be relegated to sidewalks and parks, the most public places of all?
During the process, an array of problems with West Hollywood's business-licensing protocol has also come to light. (Schmidt: A strip club as a restaurant? Really?)
Then there's the whole government-interference thing.
"Part of West Hollywood's DNA is we figure out how to get along together, where everyone is welcome in the city," Schmidt says. "But the principle behind this ordinance is there are some people who we can't get along with. ... I think that we can find a way to live side by side."
Give a shit? Please? Join Schmidt and the small-but-fierce team of "maybe a dozen" regular WeHo activists at the City Council meeting tonight.
"Most people live here because it's a fun place to live, so it's difficult to get them to come speak up to keep West Hollywood that special place," the municipal candidate says.
Just a tip: If you want the current set of ban-happy politicians to take you seriously, don't wear fur. Or a smoking jacket. But a bloody meat dress might just make the cut.
Update: In an uncharacteristically tight 3-2 vote at the West Hollywood City Hall last night, Councilmembers Lindsay Horvath and John Duran stood up against the smoking ban. And, during late-night news programming, NBC Los Angeles made sure to zoom in on some of the more colorful commenters at the meeting, including pierced/tatted/dyed "activists" (does that count as animal cruelty?) who said their personal freedoms were being infringed upon by the City Council.
Schmidt was there, as well, spouting the "let's live side by side" sentiment to any news crew who'd listen.
But all the hoopla wasn't enough to block the remaining elected officials -- John Heilman, Abbe Land and Jeffrey Prang -- from flexing their D.A.R.E.-given powers in the face of lung cancers and nasty smoker's coughs everywhere.
We're waiting for a call back from the City Clerk on whether any of the ordinance's language changed, but we do know all 200 restaurants on the list will still get the tobacco ax by 2012, as proposed. A state-mandated second "reading" and vote are scheduled for February 22, but those are just technicalities -- the thing's passed.
And not everyone's pissed: In this KTLA video, one (flaming) dude sitting at an outdoor restaurant says he's happy because the smoke was "kind of gross."
We say: Give me gross or give me death. Or at least an un-convoluted ordinance that doesn't arbitrarily single out some establishments from others while ignoring parks, sidewalks and other perfectly public areas. Is that too much to ask?
Of course it is.
Originally posted February 7 at 10:15 a.m.