Now it has been suggested by certain interested parties that if public outdoor smoking is a protected vice here because it is good for business, wouldn't allowing other equally interesting vices also improve the business climate in Sierra Madre? Outdoor drinking, slot machines, and soft drug use being some examples of the sorts of things that would bring lots of people and their business to our town. So why stop at cigarettes? If getting loaded in the beautiful outdoors is, as some would attempt to convince us, a form of liberty, then why not make Sierra Madre the greatest bastion of freedom in the entire Valley? I'm sure we would move a lot of merchandise if we did. If there is merit to the "sin city" argument, then business should boom, right?
However, that idea has yet to make it to any City Council agendas.
Now apparently some entrepreneurs here have become accustomed to the purported increased business smokers bring, and fear that restricting the enjoyment of tobacco products in our town would send them to the poorhouse. Their belief is that should we enact ordinances restricting the use of cigarettes downtown, there wouldn't be any reason for many of these people to come here. Which is a bit of a sad commentary on the marketing abilities of our Chamber of Commerce if you think about it.
Anyway, chances are pretty good that when the City Council meets on the 24th smoking restrictions will be voted into reality. And judging by some of the powerhouse medical testimony the pro-restriction people have lined up for that special evening, the heated arguments of Peter and his droogs are going to sound rather insignificant. Somehow I don't think that calling people "fascists" or "pompous stroller moms" is going to be quite nearly as impressive.
But in case the City Council does go south on this issue, there is a fallback position. And one that would help the City financially. Restaurants have long known that, if they put tables out front on the sidewalks, they increase the amount of people they can seat. And that some customers prefer the outdoor ambience. But did you know that they use our sidewalks for the very nominal fee of $334 per year? That's right, our taxes maintain them, but they reap the profits pretty much unscathed. And where exactly is all that annoying cigarette smoking taking place? That's right, at tables that sit on OUR property! Where's the justice in that I ask you.
So here's the idea. We ask the City to levy a much higher fee on any restaurants using the public right of way. An increased cost that they will incur should they choose to put tables out on the sidewalks in front of their cafes. If smoking at these tables is so important to their economic survival, and if it is driving business as some have claimed, then surely they should be expected to pay for it. After all, we have fees for almost everything else in this town. Sierra Madre truly is a small residential city, and as such we are forced to nickel and dime our way to solvency. And with state grant money disappearing almost completely, where else are we to turn?
But here's the tax relief part of the argument. Let's waive the entire fee for any businesses that ban the use of tobacco from in front of their establishments. In other words, if you don't allow smoking in front of your place, you can use the sidewalks for free. But if smoking is what drives business to your establishment, then you're going to have to give City Hall a bigger cut.
Hopefully a healthy one.
One more thing - interesting information out of Stanford regarding secondhand outdoor smoke. The big lie from the smoker clique is that there is no scientific proof that outdoor cigarette smoke is harmful. Time to rethink that one.
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(Note: This article has been edited to reflect the nominal yearly $334 fee businesses pay for having sidewalk dining access. The Tattler apologizes for any inconvenience.)