(photo by Brandon Wise)

SM PIER — Money may not grow on tree branches, but, at least in Santa Monica, it sometimes turns up in places that are just about as unlikely. Namely, at the bottom of ashtrays.

That’s right. It’s only been a few months since the City Council banned smoking on the Santa Monica Pier, but in that time at least $80 has been collected from the newly installed receptacles meant to serve as fire-safe places to discard cigarette butts on and around the popular tourist attraction, a source familiar with the inner workings of pier maintenance tells the Daily Press.

What gives?

According to Eric Faber, a board member of the Pier Restoration Corp., which oversees the 101-year-old landmark, it all boils down to unclear wording posted on the gray metallic receptacles that reads: “Save the Pier, Deposit here” in prominent type.

Below that, in a much smaller font, is the explanatory sentence: “Smoking is not permitted on the Santa Monica Pier, please deposit your cigarette butts here.” Below that there’s a fairly prominent standard “no smoking” symbol depicting a cigarette with a strike through it.

“I’ve always thought that signage was unclear in this city and it’s another humorous example of not a lot of clarity,” Faber said. “I think that [the designers] were trying to be clever, and the result was people thinking you should put money in there as well.”

To be fair, the PRC board did approve the receptacles, which went through City Hall’s normal design process.

Another PRC board member, Joel Brand, pointed out that considering the tens of thousands of visitors to the pier over a period of weeks, finding $80 worth of change during an ash tray-cleaning session isn’t terribly surprising.

An extremely informal poll of passersby conducted in front of one of the receptacles by the Daily Press on Tuesday turned up mixed results.

Alberto Galliani, a visitor from Melbourne, Australia, had no trouble deciphering the message’s intended meaning.

But Ana Berman, in town from Israel, had a different take.

“For me, it was like, ‘Oh, they want money,’” she said. After a moment’s reflection, she added: “But I guess I didn’t look here,” gesturing to the “no smoking” graphic.

For the time being, it remains a mystery where the money deposited in the ashtrays ends up. One thing is certain: It isn’t going toward saving the pier. Faber, for his part, said he suspects it makes its way into the pockets of maintenance crew workers.

He said he hopes the PRC board at a future meeting will direct the pier’s staff to find out who’s collecting the money and what’s happening to it.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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