We are surprised not at all that Santa Monica, that seaside haven of better-living do-goodniks, has taken the lead on enforcing the California Smoke Free Workplace Law, which on January 1 prohibited smoking in every bar in the state.

Last week, a Santa Monica municipal judge found Elaine Pollock, owner of Jp's Bar & Grill, guilty of allowing smoking at her Wilshire Avenue watering hole. Her penalty: a $270 fine and the threat of stiffer levies should she be cited a second time. Pollack's conviction was only the second prosecution of a bar owner in Los Angeles County.

Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky said that enforcing the smoking ban – which the tobacco and tavern-owner lobbies have unaccountably been unable to overturn in Sacramento – “is a priority for us.” And since citizen, police and employee complaints can trigger investigation of bars, Santa Monica, with a surfeit of health vigilantes, should see plenty of action in the coming months.

News of the conviction didn't go over well at one local pub where the ban is pretty much ignored. The bar owner, shaking his head, wondered to no one in particular what power he had to make his clientele, mainly long-time neighborhood residents, stop smoking. “Some of these guys have been in two world wars,” he said, pointing out one patron smoking a cigar. “What am I going to do? Ask them to stand out in El Nino to have a smoke?”

-David Cogan

The End of the Campaign

Periodically we have brought you dispatches on the quixotic efforts of a small band of first-district residents to recall City Councilman Mike Hernandez in the wake of the councilman's coke bust last summer.

The first incarnation of the Committee To Recall collapsed in January amid much finger pointing at its chairman, Albert S. Molina, having collected just a fraction of the necessary signatures. A reconstituted committee vowed to push on and for a time seemed buoyed by the encouragement of New Times columnist Jill Stewart, a stalwart Hernandez critic who put the group in touch with several professional political consultants and lobbied in print for top Dodger Rupert Murdoch, whose expansionist visions for Chavez Ravine are opposed by Hernandez, to get into the fray. (Murdoch uber alles: Now there's grassroots democracy for you.)

We figured we had heard the last of these no doubt well-meaning folks last week, when Hernandez announced he would retire from public life after his current council term expires in 2000. And yet, spooling out of the fax the next day, there was a press release from Chairman Rudy J. Tonorio de Cordova, who was “very pleased” to announce that the Committee had come “very close to collecting the necessary 6,500 signatures” required to trigger a recall election. “Within 3 percent,” the release read.

Actually, the committee fell some 1,200 signatures short, which is more like 20 percent. But we quibble. For all of their platitudes about personal responsibility and accountability and the like, Cordoba blames everyone – the political consultant they hired, Hernandez himself – but the committee itself for their failure to convince the voters of the first district that retribution is more important than redemption.

-Sam Gideon Anson

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This must be the kind of corporate wizardry that Times Mirror CEO and L.A. Times publisher Mark Willes gets the big bucks for. The Times, it seems, has cooked up a way to resolve its longstanding problems with the IRS over its use (and abuse) of full-time “freelancers” – without actually paying its lowest-wage reporters any more money.

Starting next month, the regiment of freelancers will be required to accept jobs with Times Community News (TCN), a corporate affiliate that produces local news inserts and runs a handful of small-town dailies and weeklies. They'll still report to Times editors – still accept assignments and provide tips – but on paper they will be working for a company with pay scales well below that of the L.A. Times. (Starting salary: $23,000 a year, give or take.) While the new arrangement provides for some nominal benefits and requires the company kick in for payroll taxes and the like – the IRS's primary bone of contention – it also represents a pay cut for freelancers. “Before we had illegal slave labor,” as one freelancer (who won't be accepting the new deal) put it. “Now we have legal slave labor.”

The new scheme is largely the brain-child of journalist-turned-bizwiz Robert Magnuson, whose rapid rise – from Business section editor, to president of the Orange County edition, to senior vice president for regional editions – has marked him as a Willes favorite. Besides dodging the IRS, Magnuson's plan is part of a larger strategy that calls for Times Community News to produce low-budget local-news sections, called “Our Times,” across the L.A. basin. Two versions are already up and running in the Thousand Oaks-Conejo Valley area and Santa Monica. Other areas targeted could include the Inland Empire, the San Gabriel Valley, Long Beach, Montebello-Pico Rivera and the Crenshaw area.

But before we start fawning over the Times' newfound commitment to local news (the Spring Street spin), be assured that each “Our Times” supplement – like other L.A. Times sections – will have to pay for itself in advertising. Compton, don't hold your breath. And as for quality, we're talking about reporters who are willing to work for $425 a week, before taxes. Look for lots of little-league stories.

-Howard Blume

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