CITY HALL — The City Council did an about-face on a controversial smoking ban Tuesday night over unanswered questions regarding medical marijuana and a perceived lack of outreach to condominium owners.
A 4-2 vote, with only Councilmembers Terry O’Day and Bob Holbrook in favor of the ban, reversed a July 10 decision that would have prohibited smoking for all new apartment tenants and condominium owners in Santa Monica.
Existing owners and tenants would have had to disclose their smoking habit or allow their unit to convert to non-smoking.
Councilmember Bobby Shriver, who had made the motion for the ban that carried only two weeks before, was not present.
Mayor Richard Bloom, who switched his position to oppose the measure, felt that there hadn’t been enough outreach or public discussion before putting in place a law that impacted so many Santa Monicans.
“I am resolute that we do pass something that moves this issue forward,” Bloom said.
That didn’t satisfy O’Day.
Both men acknowledged prior to the meeting that they had gotten feedback from community members urging them to change their position on the smoking ban issue.
It is, however, highly unusual for the council to pass something and then change it on second reading, which is usually a procedural matter that proceeds with no discussion or public comment.
To change the outcome of the vote with Shriver absent felt wrong despite concerns about how the law accounted for new medical marijuana users, O’Day said.
“We can deal with that with direction to staff,” O’Day said.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis felt that the changes she was looking for were too significant.
In effect, the measure that passed July 10 when Davis was absent would require smokers to opt into their apartment designation if they wanted to keep lighting up.
That was contrary to the path taken in the staff report, which made all units “smoking” unless the resident chose to make it “non-smoking.”
Those against the designate-and-disclose portion of the measure felt that such an option would brand smokers and make them targets for landlords trying to pressure tenants out of their units.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown reiterated his opposition, saying that he could not vote for something that included such a clause.
With that in mind, Davis requested that staff bring back the original proposal so that they could have the discussion again with new information about the condo owners and marijuana users.
“We’re not taking a step back, just taking additional thought to do what we will do in this regard,” she said.
Councilmembers voted to bring the original staff report back, 5-1, with Councilmember Pam O’Connor against.
The result disappointed but did not shock anti-smoking advocates that had gathered for the meeting, despite the fact that they would not be allowed to speak because it was a second reading.
“It was important to show the council that the issue is important to the community,” said Marlene Gomez, project director at Smokefree Air For Everyone. “No matter what happens, we will still be here.”
Gomez took it as a positive sign that the matter would come back before the City Council. It meant that the ultimate goal of banning smoking in multi-unit housing was not dead, she said.
The question is a difficult one that forces the City Council to weigh property rights against health concerns.
Second-hand smoke is a known carcinogen which seeps through walls and electrical sockets and into adjoining apartment.
Those in favor of the ban see the measure as a health issue, and urge Santa Monica to pass ordinances like that found in South Pasadena, which will ban smoking in residential apartments entirely by 2013.