Smokers are finding fewer places to smoke within Santa Monica. Last Tuesday, the city council further limited the number of locations where one may light up. Multi-unit residences are okay, for now. However, new hotels are off limits.
In a 5-1 vote, council members took the first step in restricting smoking in hotels. However, council members could not agree to apply a similar ban to private residences.
A separate 4-2 vote granted staff an open-ended calendar to return to council chambers with focused details on certain impacts on issues such as privacy and affordable housing.
City Hall approached the council with a prospective ordinance calling for no smoking in all newly constructed hotels and the ban of smoking in designated non-smoking residential units.
However, the council struggled to come to terms on approving the ordinance as a whole, as protest of potential privacy violations from residential landlords proved to be a significant speed bump.
As part of the ordinance, not only would smoking be prohibited in all newly vacated residential units, but currently existing multi-unit residences would have to be designated as either smoking or non-smoking.
Even more, landlords and homeowner associations would have been required to document and distribute to current and prospective residents the smoking status of each unit on the property.
The intent of maintaining such records was outlined in the staff report as providing “valuable information to those making decisions about where to live, and to decrease exposure to second-hand smoke in residential properties.”
Of course, landlords of multi-unit residences argued the privacy of their tenants would be breached should the council approve the new ordinance.
Effectuating the privacy invasion argument was the proposed ordinance’s “Designate and Disclose Rule,” which called for current individual residential units to be designated as smoking or non-smoking.
Whenever a smoking-designated residential unit would be vacated, under the proposed ordinance, it would automatically be shifted to non-smoking for every tenant thereafter.
By requiring landlords and homeowner associations to essentially maintain a roster of each unit’s designation, City Hall hoped to address the practical difficulties in enforcing what would essentially be a smoking ban in a private residences.
“Without the explicit prohibition, there would be no consequence for smoking in designated non-smoking units,” the staff report to council members read. “Conversely, a prohibition on smoking for new occupancies would be difficult to monitor or enforce without the required information of the designate and disclose rule. Without the required documentation of non-smoking units at a property, there would be no practical way for a person to know whether a tenant smoking in a unit was grandparented by the ordinance.”
Landlords were not too thrilled about the “Designate and Disclose Rule.”
Meanwhile, many residents and council members urged passage of the ordinance in order to better address health concerns.
With residents and a few members on the dais also finding flaws with at least the residences portion of the ordinance, the council ultimately fell short of approving the multi-unit residential ban.
Despite the 5-1 vote in favor of banning smoking in all newly constructed hotels, the issue is far from resolved.
The sole neigh vote was by Council member Kevin McKeown, who expressed concern of the pace that City Hall was regulating smoking in Santa Monica.
“I’m not comfortable with the shift from second-hand smoke protection, which I supported, to making Santa Monica some kind of a leader in being a totally smoke-free zone,” McKeown stated.
Only two council members – Bobby Shriver and Bob Holbrook – supported the full ordinance.
Indeed, Tuesday’s agenda item on the issue is the latest attempt to impose some sort of ban or limitation on smoking.
Earlier this year, council members affirmatively voted to ban smoking in multi-unit residence patios and common areas. Other areas where smoking is not allowed include beach areas and the Third Street Promenade.
Outdoor dining venues on the Promenade are also prohibited.
The proposed ordinance was presented to the dais shortly before a state law goes into effect permitting landlords to designate either individual rental units or their entire structure as non-smoking.
The Dec. 13 city council meeting was the last one for 2011. Council member Terry O’Day was not present.