Smokers in Santa Monica will soon have even fewer places to light up in residential properties.
The City Council voted July 27 to strengthen the city’s already far-reaching smoking ban by expanding the definition of multi-unit residential “common areas” to include all outdoor areas within 25 feet of doors, windows or vents. This essentially prohibits the activity on balconies, porches and patios, or those areas within the 25-foot radius.
The council action expands a smoking ban that is among the more stringent of municipalities in the region. In addition to the common areas of residential properties, smoking in Santa Monica is prohibited — except for designated areas — in places such as beaches, parks, the Third Street Promenade and pier, farmers markets and within 20 feet of the entrance of buildings open to the public.
City Councilman Kevin McKeown said the city’s protections against second-hand smoke have been an “iterative process,” starting with the beaches and parks and moving to multi-unit residential properties.
“My hope is that we are about to take a substantive but responsible step toward strengthened protections to second-hand smoke,” said McKeown, expressing his support prior to the vote.
While the councilman said he doesn’t think the council will cross the threshold into people’s living spaces, he is supportive of extending the ban to within 25 feet of doors and windows. The council additionally directed staff to explore prohibitions in new multi-unit homes and in new hotels.
In approving the increased restrictions, city staff said the council was responding to nearly 50 resident complaints since the prohibition in common areas was adopted last year. Many of those residents had sought greater protections against second-hand smoke in residential areas, city staff noted.
The council delayed adopting portions of the ordinance that would require owners of all multi-unit homes to compile a list of the status of all units as either smoking or non-smoking and to disclose that information to existing tenants and future renters. Some council members feared this action could threaten tenants’ chances for eviction and asked to consider the issue following a November ballot measure regarding increased renter protections.
City Councilwoman Gleam Davis said she felt “uncomfortable taking steps that could jeopardize people’s tenancies” and wanted to ensure that the steps taken are incremental to assess the impact of the new law.
“My own personal proclivities are not to cross the thresholds of people’s units at least not at this time,” Davis said prior to the vote.
The expanded law does not set penalties for smoking violations but rather for complaints to be settled in small claims court.
Some members of the public who spoke at the meeting said they were in favor of extending the restrictions to patios and balconies. Resident Willow Evans explained her support saying that the smoke from a neighboring balcony reaches into her apartment.
Marlene Gomez, associate director for the group Safe Air For Everyone (SAFE), told the council that when someone smokes near windows and doors, the air pressure pulls the smoke into nearby homes.
“Being able to open doors and windows without having to breathe in a neighbor’s tobacco smoke is very important to people in Santa Monica,” she told the council.
Resident Jerry Rubin, who has announced his candidacy for City Council, called the strengthened smoking ban a “logical expansion.” Another supporter, retired Superior Court judge Judy Abrams, said the council has come a long way with its protections from second-hand smoke.
Councilman Bob Holbrook agreed it was amazing how far the city has come in addressing smoking issues over the last two decades and he believed it was time to outlaw smoking in outdoor areas near residential windows and doors.
Mayor Bobby Shriver was the lone vote against the measure, explaining that he believed the ordinance did not go far enough at addressing the concerns and he would have kept the requirements for smoking unit designations.
“Even though I fully take the ‘your home is your castle’ kind of concept, it’s not your castle for various things already under the law. You can’t engage in certain kinds of activities in your home,” Shriver said. “I think you have a very deadly substance that is going through the ventilation systems and into small children.”