Assemblyman Leland Yee: Protecting our Beaches

Last year, volunteers for California's annual Coastal Cleanup Day collected 578,000 pounds of trash, including more than 315,000 cigarette butts. An estimated 4.5 trillion cigarettes are littered annually, making cigarettes the number one source of litter in the United States and worldwide.

As the top pollutant on beaches, cigarette butts often wash directly into ocean waters, to the detriment of marine life and all recreational ocean users. Cigarette filters are not biodegradable, contain 200 known poisons and release toxic chemicals into the environment. They damage marine and shore habitats and create unsightly hazards for beach goers. Cigarette butts are particularly hazardous to small children, who handle and sometimes ingest them, not to mention the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Initially, I authored legislation to increase penalties for littering on state beaches. However, as the bill moved through the legislative process, it became clear that the enforcement of this law would be quite difficult due to the small size of individual pieces of cigarette litter. Therefore, in order to preserve the natural beauty of our beaches and protect the health and safety of our marine life and residents, I am authoring Assembly Bill (AB) 454 to prohibit smoking on all our state beaches.

AB 454 would ban smoking on all beaches within the jurisdiction of the California Department of Parks and Recreation and would assess a $100 fine for the first offense. The revenue generated from fines would directly benefit the local cities and counties in which the beaches are located.

The legislation would affect 62 beaches throughout the state. They host approximately 35 million visitors each year.

Locally, AB 454 will protect nine beaches in the Bay Area, including Bean Hollow, Gray Whale Cove, Half Moon Bay, Montara, Pacifica, Pescadero, Pomponio, San Gregorio and Thornton State Beach.

Many coastal communities have already taken action to protect their residents from the harmful effects of tobacco smoke and cigarette litter by passing smoke-free beach ordinances, including Solana Beach, San Clemente, Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Malibu. Others, including San Diego, Laguna Beach and Marin County are considering similar action.

Currently, the Department of Parks and Recreation maintains and monitors the safety of our state beaches. The department's efforts are supported by the work of valuable grassroots organizations, like Cause We Care, a local group of talented young people who I have joined with several times to participate in beach cleanups and other community projects. The group's devotion to preserving the aesthetic value and safety of our shores inspired me to introduce beach protection legislation at the state level.

It is my hope that through this legislation, we can prevent the further degradation and depletion of our precious natural resources so future generations of Californians will be able to enjoy them as we do. I hope you will join the Ocean Conservancy, Cause We Care, Coastwalk, Save the Bay, Save Our Shores, the Sierra Club and many others in supporting this important measure to preserve the beauty and safety of our coast.

Assemblyman Leland Yee is the speaker pro tempore at the California State Assembly.