Seeking to make Santa Monica’s laws on smoking even more restrictive seems to be far more involved than a public health issue.
Of the municipalities in the region, the City of Santa Monica is considered to have among the more stringent restrictions on smoking, prohibiting the activity in areas such as parks, beaches, farmers markets, outdoor dining and service areas and within common areas of apartment and condominium complexes. But some residents say that the restrictions still do not go far enough and they are calling to have the city’s ban expanded.
They say that smoke from residential balconies and patios or through open windows from within the residence tends to drift into neighboring units, which can have an impact on tenants’ health and disturb their living situation. The secondhand smoke that drifts into a unit can attach to walls, floors and furniture, creating an effect known as “third-hand smoke,” they say.
Expressing concern about the potential impacts from smoke passing from residences to neighboring units, some residents, including members of the group Santa Monicans for Non-Smoking Renters Rights, have pushed for a smoking ban on all balconies and patios and for the development of non-smoking sections including units.
Rent Control Board member Robert Kronovet made a similar proposal to the board at its meeting Thursday, December 3rd, recommending a ban on smoking in multi-family residential units.
“This expanded ban will essentially close the gap and put us squarely in the history books regarding tenant protections,” Kronovet said.
After some Rent Control Board members noted that the board is not charged with creating policy, Kronovet instead called for the board to write a letter to the City Council recommending the expanded ban. But the proposal did not receive support from any other board member and no action was taken after a number of speakers presented views both for and against the suggestion.
While some told the board that they are concerned about their health and having trouble living comfortably in their units, others criticized the proposal for telling them how to behave in their own homes.
Kronovet said his proposal is modeled after an existing smoking ban in Belmont that has worked well.
In offering support for the motion, some speakers said it’s important to ensure that the health of renters in the city is protected.
“We do have a right to protect renters when there is a health threat and a nuisance such as this,” activist Jerry Rubin told the board.
Several others pointed to negative health effects associated with secondhand smoke, saying it has caused them to become ill and they explained that their living environment has also become disrupted.
“I’m constantly inundated with cigarette smoke not only on the balcony but inside,” said Christopher Boyce, referring to two neighbors who smoke. “It’s a real problem and I wish somebody would not minimize it.”
One of Boyce’s neighbors told the board that she coughs in her sleep from the smoke and feels like she has “lost my home.”
Those in opposition to the motion did not try to dispute the health impacts of smoking but rather argued that the ban would go too far by trying to regulate activity in individual homes.
Resident Denise Barton said smoking is a legal activity and asked if such a law could be viewed as an invasion of privacy, saying that the home is supposed to be considered a private area.
J.L. Jacobson called the proposal “ridiculous” and told Kronovet to think about the ramifications of an expanded ban.
“You are not protecting tenant rights by this suggestion,” he said.
Former Rent Control Board member Dolores Press said the City Council has previously taken strong action against smoking but has so far resisted crossing the threshold of private space. Such a ban could lead to prejudice and scapegoating of the minority of residents who are smokers, she said.
Julie Lopez Dad, a former planning commissioner, said the issue is about civil liberties and there are other things that can be done before trying to regulate one’s activity in their home.
“If we go down the road of regulating what we can do in our homes it’s going to be about sexual activity, it’s going to be about religion,” she said.
Retired Superior Court Judge Judy Abrams spoke on the concern of people’s rights in their private homes, saying that residents can not take part in activities that affect the rights of their neighbors.
“People can’t do things in their apartments that affect their neighbors in a negative way,” she said of the issue.
Understanding that a ban on certain activity in a residence is a contentious issue, some speakers suggested that the board and city officials continue to explore alternative solutions that would be workable to the differing sides.
“I urge you to do whatever you have to do to solve the problem for both sides,” said Paul Scott, who noted he has been personally affected by secondhand smoke.