Following an emotional public hearing on an ordinance that would have amended Santa Monica’s anti-smoking law to prohibit smoking in indoor and outdoor common areas of multi-unit residential housing, the Santa Monica City Council sent the ordinance back to the drawing board for revisions that would protect noncompliant tenants from possible evictions.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie pointed out at the September 28th council meeting that, because of rent control in Santa Monica, “landlords may have a huge financial incentive to evict existing tenants.”

While that would be a financial motive independent of the purposes of the ordinance, which is protecting health and safety, it is still a reality.

It is also a big concern, along with enforcement of the potential ordinance, Moutrie noted.

In fact, it is such a big concern that the Santa Monica Rent Control Board adopted a resolution in late August opposing the measure to prohibit smoking in multi-unit residential common areas.

A number of California cities, including Calabasas, Belmont, Temecula, Loma Linda, Oakland and most recently Glendale, have begun to regulate tobacco use in multi-unit housing.

“It is important to point out that Santa Monica is definitely a unique city among those that have regulated residential smoking and Oakland is probably the closest city to Santa Monica as far as having a rent control law and possible incentives for some owners to evict tenants other than just for the smoking, although Oakland’s law is not as strong as Santa Monica’s, so these incentives are not even the same there,” said Adam Radinsky, the head of Santa Monica’s Consumer Protection Unit.

Radinsky noted that Oakland is not aware of any rise in evictions since the city passed the law approximately a year ago.

“The bottom line is, we don’t have any kind of real data from other cities that have adopted residential smoking laws as to its effect on tenants’ rights, partly because these are very new laws, not many cities have done it and also because, like I said, there are no other cities in the same ballpark as Santa Monica, with the same incentives on the part of owners to evict,” said Radinsky.

After the public hearing in which dozens spoke, Councilmen Ken Genser and Kevin McKeown both expressed concerns about the ordinance.

“For me, the need to preclude inadvertent evictions is an absolute,” McKeown said. “And as much compassion as I have for everybody’s testimony tonight about the health impacts, I’m also concerned about housing impacts and I don’t want to see somebody losing a rent-controlled apartment because we didn’t think through this ordinance, so I’m supportive of the idea of pausing to get it right.”

Mayor Herb Katz agreed.

“I’m concerned with protecting the tenants so they don’t get evicted, and at the same time, I don’t want to make the landlord responsible for this, which we’re not in this ordinance,” Katz said. “And I think we need the signage out there.”

But Councilwoman Pam O’Connor expressed concern “that there could be the unintended consequence where we really would be arming and pitting neighbor against neighbor.” She said she was not convinced that this was “the route to go.”

Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom said he was completely supportive of eliminating as much as possible the potential for eviction.

“I think it’s extremely important,” he said. “This is taking some time, but we have two extremely important issues here. One is healthcare; one is folks’ ability to live with protections and rights in their tenancies and rental units here.

“Both are highly valued in this community and I just think we absolutely need to protect both of those interests to the highest degree possible, so I’m looking forward to what comes back from staff.”

Currently, smoking is prohibited on the Third Street Promenade and in all farmers markets, all outdoor dining areas and outdoor service areas, such as bus stops, ATM lines and movie theater lines, and within 20 feet of entrances, exits or open windows of buildings open to the public.

It is also prohibited in Santa Monica’s public parks and on its beaches.

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