San Clemente Officials Move to Block New Smoke Shops from Opening Near Schools, Parks

JESSICA RUIZ, Voice of OC

Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Youth Media program, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Digital Editor Sonya Quick at squick@voiceofoc.org.

With concern growing surrounding vaping-related illnesses nationwide, San Clemente is regulating smoke and tobacco shops in the city.

The City Council voted 3-1 last week to preliminarily approve an ordinance requiring smoke and tobacco shops to be 500 feet from locations like schools or parks, as well as similar existing establishments. Other cities such as Dana Point and Laguna Beach have passed smoking laws in the last two years that prevent smoking and vaping in public places.

The ordinance would only apply to new shops attempting to enter the city and would have no effect on the existing outlets. Approximately ten smoke shops are in the city, with four of the shops on El Camino Real.

Smoking and tobacco have recently been in the national spotlight due to potential health and addiction concerns stemming from vaping. President Donald Trump recently issued a statement saying the administration will work to ban flavored vapes in the U.S. 

San Clemente’s new regulation comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that 1,080 cases of vaping-related diseases have been reported nationally.

San Clemente officials say they too are concerned.

The city would like to keep vapes out of the hands of children, said Councilwoman Kathleen Ward. She hopes the ordinance will prevent new smoke shops from entering the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Dan Bane wants to see the ordinance implemented but sought a 500-foot buffer zone instead of the originally proposed 300 or 1,000 feet. Bane explained the city has made similar zoning decisions in the past for vehicle maintenance shops, allowing it to control where the shops exist.

Tina Marcione, who is raising two young boys in San Clemente supports the ordinance, saying “the further we can keep it (smoking and vaping) away from the kids the better.”

However, she does not believe the 500-foot buffer will deter kids enough to prevent them from trying smoking paraphernalia. 

Councilwoman Laura Ferguson was the lone dissenter.

Ferguson explained the city receives very few complaints on smoke and tobacco shops, about 80 in the last five years. She went on to say if there are no complaints, the council does not need to make an unnecessary law.

Some residents in attendance at the council meeting agreed with Ferguson, stating their own reasons in opposition.

One argued it was unfair to place distance limits between legal businesses, calling the ordinance “unamerican.”

“I thought this was America; let business do business where it wants,” he said.

Others argued the ordinance was forcing new smoke shops to be placed in the Outlets, an outdoor shopping mall, which neighbors the Sea Summit housing tract, which has experienced homelessness issues. A map presented as part of a staff report at the meeting showed the Outlets as one of the open spaces where new smoke shops could potentially open. Fears from the resident in opposition included placing such shops in an area already populated by the homeless.

Ward said the council cannot decide what shops are placed in the Outlets, as the property is not owned by the city.

San Clemente also will look to follow in nearby Laguna Beach’s footsteps, which is looking to expand its smoking ordinance to ban flavored vapes. The council will consider a similar ban at a later meeting.

The body will next meet Oct. 15 at 6 p.m.

Contact Us: If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Digital Editor Sonya Quick at squick@voiceofoc.org.