For nonsmokers, banning lighting up at the end of Forest Lane, a downtown alley beautified by a mural, is another strike for the cause.
But for transient musician and long-time smoker Richard McLoud, who plays guitar with other street musicians there every night, it’s a personal blow. “I’m here everyday so I’m sure I’m the root cause of this problem,” he said.
McLoud speculated that the decision skirts the real issue and one that became a town crisis during the summer of 2009: moving street people off the street and out of the sight of residents and tourists.
“No one has ever mentioned anything about smoking right here in this area,” he said. No one has ever said it was a problem or that they have an issue with it.” McLoud, who has lived on the streets in Laguna for about five years, said that if someone had come to him directly and asked him not to smoke in that area anymore, he would oblige. “They don’t come to you directly, they make what you do against the law first,” he said while relighting his cigarette.
The City Council voted last week to approve the ban effective in 30 days. “It’s become a sort of gathering area with the wonderful artwork we have there,” City Manager John Pietig reported to the council. The wall mural, painted by Sandra Jones Campbell with the assistance of Laguna College of Art and Design students, depicts a colorful mishmash of people at a myriad of Laguna Beach places. In a prescient twist, it’s titled “Keep It Clean for the Next Generation.”
Pietig thinks the smokers deter potential customers. “I know it’s been a significant concern for those businesses. We felt there were enough other areas to smoke in town,” he said.
In a later interview, Pietig said city officials met with representatives of Toes on the Nose surf shop and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, who complained about loiterers smoking as well as instances of burglary and vandalism. “All of those things play into why we want to eliminate this as a place to gather to smoke,” said Pietig, who added that other public gathering spots where people probably smoke have not elicited complaints.
“If the concern is by potential merchants, why don’t we discontinue smoking where purchasers actually walk?” asked Keating Rhoades, a resident and homeless advocate. He pointed out that more people probably smoke along the storefronts of the town’s busiest shopping thoroughfare, Forest Avenue, than on Forest Lane. Even so, Rhoades doesn’t intend to challenge the ban. “We’ll make more progress if people focus on real issues,” he said.
The city’s municipal code currently restricts smoking in numerous public areas: parks, beaches, beach access points, public restrooms, indoor lines, portions of the ACT V parking lot and the Alternative Sleeping Area in Laguna Canyon.
During council discussion, Councilmember Verna Rollinger asked who the ordinance was directed at specifically, tourists or employees taking a smoke break. The lane is between a surf shop and a candy store across from Main Beach on South Coast Highway.
“They’re not visitors nor are they employees,” hinted councilmember Kelly Boyd.
“Are they the same people showing up everyday?” Rollinger inquired further.
“There’s probably a fair number that are there frequently,” answered Pietig in the guessing-game-like repartee. “They may be doing other things that are not appropriate, especially next to business establishments. I don’t see this as a place where our tourists or employees are going to and causing any problems.”
McLoud said it didn’t surprise him that the subject was approached indirectly. “They don’t know who they are because I’ve never met any of them so how could they know who I am?”
As far as being a blight on the painted and sun-washed landscape, McLoud disagrees. “You now actually have musicians hanging around here who are living art,” he proffered. “But people turn this corner and they’re so full of fear they don’t know what the hell to do with themselves. If you’ve got that much fear and you’re afraid of people you don’t know, I can’t help you,” he said. McLoud said the musicians he hangs out with there are “the sweetest people I know.”
Night employees at adjacent shops said they heard about the ban and supported it. They preferred anonymity.