By JORDEN HALES | La Mesa Courier
Phillip Hoffman logged onto Facebook the Monday before Thanksgiving Day anticipating typical business.
For him, business is smoke — cigar smoke to be specific. He has owned La Mesa’s Hoffer’s Cigar Bar since 2008.
When checking activity on the bar’s Facebook page, Hoffman was alerted by a customer to a new municipal code to be considered the following evening by La Mesa City Council.
The code proposal, which calls for city-specific regulation of public smoking described by most in attendance at the Nov. 27 meeting as a “ban,” seemingly would have put his operations in jeopardy.
“I kind of went off immediately with Facebook and emails and it just blew up,” he said. “The way they want to put it through had no safety for existing businesses that have areas for adults to smoke.”
Specific language that left Hoffman and his followers concerned indicates “any place, publicly or privately owned, which is open to the general public regardless of fee or age requirement” would be subject to the new municipal code.
Several representatives from bar and nightlife establishments were present at the meeting to demonstrate their concerns.
“We figured it would be revised,” said Council member Kristine Alessio, who partnered with Council member Dr. Akilah Weber to present the proposed legislation to the public. “You have to put something together that leads to discussion. I would have been surprised if it had been adopted as was with no comment.”
In addition to several speakers during the meeting and contact from Hoffman prior to it, Council member Bill Baber was among the most vocal advocates for specific amendments to the proposal.
Among Baber’s concerns was the possibility of redundant or conflicting details between La Mesa’s proposed regulations and California state law and how the city would go about coordinating to make sure fines, citations or other possible infractions were not redundant.
California’s current smoking laws generally ban smoking in bars and other public gathering spaces.
Since statewide smoking regulations went into effect in the 1990s, cities have primarily been tasked with setting local standards.
“Everything we have about smoking cannabis in here is already state law,” Baber said. “And the last part of this sort of deputizes the city manager to work with other agencies…We already have an overworked city manager. If there’s funding for an officer who could help, that would be different.”
According to no-smoke.org, more than 100 California cities have passed laws restricting smoking in certain areas. Carlsbad and El Cajon are two other local jurisdictions among them.
A survey done earlier this year by Community Action Service Advocacy (CASA) indicates more than 70% of La Mesa residents support a comprehensive ban of smoking in public areas; 90% prefer smoking not be allowed in outdoor areas and 57% indicated they have personally been bothered by secondhand smoke in public La Mesa spaces.
“I had to go through a review to get authorization to have my patio for cigar smoking 11 years ago,” Hoffman said. “This will destroy me. And customers want to be there. How are you going to protect them from themselves?”
Further discussion of the ordinance will be postponed for the remainder of the year. Alessio promises concerns from City Council and the public will be a part of the future discourse.
“We will be meeting with the city attorney to start making sure the concerns of citizens and business owners are met,” she said. “For now, no discussion is taking place.”
— Reach reporter Jorden Hales at email@example.com.