Smoking legislation either goes too far already or not far enough for the members of Santa Monica City Council, who struggled to agree on what to have City staff look into in developing while drafting a proposed ordinance expanding cigarette regulation to users living in multi-unit residences.
While an actual ordinance on the issue seems to be a ways away, council members ultimately moved forward with the staff recommendation in a 4-to-1 vote to consider a possible ordinance requiring multi-unit residential property owners “to designate and disclose to potential renters and buyers the status of each unit as smoking or non-smoking.” Prohibition of smoking in all newly constructed hotels may also be part of the new ordinance, should one be actually be drafted for the council to consider as a first reading. Staff will also look into other areas of regulating second-hand smoke.
Leading the discussion was Council member Terry O’Day, who told his colleagues there had been enough contemplating and bickering on the dais and it was time for the city council to take on more of a leadership role in the area of cigarette and smoking regulation.
“This is a social justice issue and it depends what side of the apartment wall you will view this from,” O’Day said, urging fellow council members to ensure the next time they consider this issue will be as a first read instead of another “Staff Administrative Items” discussion. “The norm has changed. They (cigarette smokers) go outdoors. They don’t want to harm their families,” O’Day added.
Mayor Richard Bloom thought the ordinance recommendations did not go far enough. While he made very clear there are no laws in Santa Monica that specifically prohibits smoking, he did hope a smoking ban would be extended to all new construction projects (as opposed to just hotels).
Conversely, Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis reminded her colleagues of the unintended consequences of such a prohibitive ordinance, should one similar to what staff recommended on Tuesday night be passed. Specifically, she pointed out, amidst sighs and noticeable protests from the gallery, a homeless family who happens to have at least one smoker among them may be precluded from residing in an affordable housing complex because of the smoking habit.
Nearly 20 members of the community spoke during the public forum, with just about all of them voicing their hope council members would move forward with the staff recommendations to pursue an ordinance prohibiting smoking in multi-unit residences.
One speaker cited an observational study he performed in one Santa Monica apartment complex, where cigarette smoke that ends up in a non-smoker’s unit can reach unhealthful levels found in a smoky casino, due to the way it travels through the ventilation system, dramatically increasing the risk of second-hand smoke.
Santa Monica resident Carol Real talked about the tenants who lived below her unit and smoked into the wee hours of the night. Real, who lives in a rent-control unit and is the mother of a six-year-old asthmatic daughter, said she had three different bed sets for her child and the needed to move her as many as eight times per night because of cigarette smoke penetrating through the walls and coming in through vents. Had it not been for the tenants below, who paid market rent for their unit, ultimately moving out, her and her family were on the verge of relinquishing their rent controlled home for the sake of their collective health.
“My apartment smelt like an ashtray despite our efforts,” Real told the council.
In an emotional moment, right after Real’s two-minute speaking time had expired, her daughter, Griffin, was offered an opportunity to speak to the council. She pleaded with council members to expedite an ordinance prohibiting smoking in multi-unit residences.
“Smoking is very bad for kids, and especially kids with asthma,” she said, adding she has several friends in Kindergarten who also live in multi-unit residences and are at risk of diseases related to second-hand smoke.
Several other community members echoed similar sentiments, citing various statistics and stating commonly heard arguments on the dangers of cigarette and second-hand smoke, especially in the home.
Council member O’Connor, who said she sought more demographics on issue, such as whether smoking in Santa Monica residences was more common among aging senior citizens instead of young professionals or working adults, was the sole vote against. She also said that while she does not condone cigarette smoking, she defends the right of cigarette smokers to have the choice of smoking in their own homes. At least one member of the public agreed, stating the council should be focused on less bureaucracy and regulation.
Council members Bobby Shriver and Kevin McKeown did not attend the June 28 meeting.