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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, April 5, 2000

San Diego is our
idea test lab

IN a lot of ways, San Diego is what Honolulu wants to become. It's a clean, modern city with light rail, a roaring economy and a thriving tourist industry. It's a lot like Honolulu, too, with a mild climate, cultural diversity, miles of beaches and a large military presence.

So we can let San Diego try things out, take the best of its ideas and discard the ones that don't work.

One of the things I've written about before that has worked is San Diego's large marina system, which came about when government got out of the way and let private developers put in boat slips. The result was hundreds of small businesses catering to private boat owners sprang up.

Gov. Ben Cayetano suggested privatizing the Ala Wai Boat Harbor but his idea was torpedoed by boat owners who didn't want to see their cozy haven commercialized. The difference between the governor's proposal and the San Diego model is that San Diego allowed for the development of new marinas, not the commercialization of existing ones. If the governor wanted to spur small business and develop Hawaii's boating industry, he'd allow private development of marinas in places like Keehi Lagoon where the San Diego Effect could play itself out.

One idea that isn't working in San Diego is a ban on smoking in bars. A few years ago, the Honolulu City Council passed a smoking ban in bars and restaurants specifically copied from California. Mayor Jeremy Harris vetoed the idea, citing government intrusion into private business. Considering a recent legal battle in San Diego, Harris is looking positively sage-like.

WHILE some cities in California have ignored the statewide smoking ban, San Diego enforced it aggressively. One pub, the One Double-Oh Seven Club and Smoking Parlor, has fought it by claiming to be a "smoking club."

The San Diego district attorney sued and both sides recently settled. The outcome was this: The pub owners spent $30,000 to erect a glass partition between customers who drink and don't smoke and those who do both. Each side is considered a separate business, a legal subtlety that can be appreciated only by lawyers. The fact is that people in this bar smoke; they just do it in a different room. They can also drink in that room; they just have to buy their drinks on the no-smoking side. So the only thing the state achieved is to make it inconvenient for some customers to get their beers.

City Councilman John Henry Felix suggested that if smoking were banned in Honolulu bars, people could just go outside to smoke. That's what they do in San Francisco. Smokers sit outside at tables and drink and share their nasty smoke with everyone forced to pass by on the sidewalk instead of people who specifically choose to go inside the joint.

The San Diego case shows partial smoking bans won't work. Look, smoking's dumb. But it is legal. And as long as it is, private business owners have a right to provide a place for their smoking patrons to indulge.

"I believe we are the first legal bar and smoking parlor in the People's Republic of Neo-Prohibitionist California," the owner of the San Diego pub told reporters.

Luckily, Hawaii got to sit back and watch this fight and it didn't cost us a cent. Councilman Felix and others were really hot on the "Great California Smoking Ban." Maybe now they'll see the value of the "Wise San Diego Compromise."

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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