We Could Put Smokers in Jail, But We Have No Plans to Do So


Yesterday I got an e-mail message from Michael Hafken, a public information specialist for the City of Calabasas, offering a "correction" of my column about the town's new outdoor smoking ban:

Please note that there is NO possible jail time for a violation of the Comprehensive Secondhand Smoke Control Ordinance in the City of Calabasas. Penalties range from warnings (most cases) to a potential $500 fine for extreme, repeated and willful violations. Violations are coded as infractions and NOT misdemeanors.

I wrote back, pointing out that the ordinance says, "A violation of this ordinance shall constitute a misdemeanor punishable pursuant to chapter 1.16 of this code [which specifies a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine] unless the prosecutor determines to prosecute it as an infraction as authorized by section 1.16.010(a)." Ten hours later, I received this reply:

You are correct regarding the ordinance text. I should have said that the City has publicly maintained that there are no plans to treat violations as misdemeanors. As is true of any violation of the City Code, we have a broad range of remedies, ranging from administrative fines (like parking tickets, which top out at $500), infractions (which also top out at $500), and full-blown misdemeanor prosecution. For the initial period of enforcement, the City only plans on educating people about the ordinance and issuing warnings. In extreme situations, such as repeated and willful violations, a fine may be levied as an infraction.

I guess my point, poorly made in my previous email, was that there are no foreseeable instances where the City would arrest people and put them in jail for smoking under this ordinance. I apologize for any confusion.

So the city's position is that although it has the authority the put smokers in jail, it will never use that authority. If so, why put it in the ordinance to begin with?