Nowhere is “big brother” watching you more than in Santa Monica.
In October, the City Council approved an ordinance that prohibits smoking in private apartments and condos. It’s the latest in a long list of smoking prohibitions that includes common areas of multi-family dwellings as well as the beach, parks, restaurants and most public areas.
According to a press release issued by Adam Radinsky in the City Attorney’s Office, the ordinance states all vacated units in multi-unit residential properties are forever declared “non-smoking.” Anyone now moving into a vacated apartment or condo in Santa Monica is prohibited from smoking in them.
By Jan. 21 all landlords and condo homeowners’ associations (HOA’s) are required to survey current occupants, who must designate their domiciles as either “smoking” or “non-smoking.” Smokers (as of Nov. 22, 2012) can smoke inside their units only if they’re designated “smoking” units.
Here’s where privacy goes out the window. Once the survey is completed, landlords and HOA’s must provide occupants, prospective renters or buyers and anyone who asks for it a copy of each unit’s smoking status
The ordinance says, “if a person persists is smoking inside a ‘non-smoking’ unit after getting a written notice, the person may be taken to small claims court and is liable to pay damages starting at $100.”
Anyone can enforce the law and sue. Property owners/managers are only required to conduct the survey and maintain updates. They’re not required to enforce violations of no-smoking rules.
The lesson here is to designate your unit as a “smoking” unit whether you smoke of not. I’m not a smoker, but I’ll register my apartment as a “smoking” unit because there’s no risk or penalty for smoking in a unit that’s designated “smoking.”
If your unit is “non-smoking,” any time a visitor lights up, it’s a violation of Santa Monica Municipal Code, Section 4.44.040. And, that includes roommates — fiancé, relatives or friends — who might move in. If you’ve signed a lease that says there’s “no smoking in your unit” and someone does, you could also be subject to eviction for failure to adhere to the terms of your lease.
Even medical marijuana isn’t exempt. If the occupant can’t take marijuana in a non-smokable form, smoking might be permissible under the “reasonable accommodation” standard for persons with disabilities with a doctor’s request.
There’s so much wrong with this unwieldy and unenforceable ordinance, I don’t know where to begin.
The ordinance is designed to protect the public’s health from harmful pipe, cigarette and cigar smoke. But, what’s next? Public disclosure of peanut butter in your home because a neighbor may be allergic to it? How about protecting vegans by listing tenants who store and cook meat? Let’s list all pets to protect people who react negatively to animal hair or bird feathers.
Let’s require documentation of noisy tenants for persons who may be traumatized by hearing a neighbor’s TV, phone conversation or love making? The prohibitions could go on and on. If we’re going to protect people’s well being, why stop at smoking?
While I sympathize with the argument that second-hand smoke is detrimental to the health of non-smokers, especially children, what about fireplaces and barbecues whose carcinogen-laden smoke is also harmful? At night, wood smoke from multiple neighbors’ fireplaces drifts into my third floor apartment causing watery eyes, throat irritation and coughing.
A couple years ago when the person living below me was a two to three pack a day smoker, her second-hand cigarette smoke seeped into my place through wall plugs, the fireplace and around door and windows frames constantly. I wasn’t bothered nearly as much by it as my neighbor’s fireplace and barbecue smoke.
One of the major advocates of the anti-smoking ordinance was Esther Schiller, director of the Smokefree Apartment House Registry, a nonprofit that helps people find non-smoking complexes. The group lobbied hard for the ban.
During recent discussions on the proposed ordinance, the council was repeatedly assured by Schiller that her group wasn’t seeking eviction for violating the ordinance.
However, an e-mail from Schiller to her supporters after the ordinance was adopted reveals her disappointment that eviction wasn’t included for violations. She wrote, “The down side is that the city will not enforce the law … Another down side is that landlords are not permitted to evict tenants for smoking.”
For the record, Kevin McKeown and Pam O’Connor opposed the ordinance. Bob Holbrook, Gleam Davis, Terry O’Day, (then) Mayor Richard Bloom and Bobby Shriver supported it. The possibility of eviction still bothers McKeown.
I’m always concerned when “do-gooders” want to prevent me from doing something that’s totally legal and within my rights. I have no problem with a landlord or HOA declaring their property’s common areas smoke-free. However, blacklisting smokers is as wrong as creating and distributing lists of tenants who have medical or mental issues or are alcoholic. It’s nobody’s damn business.
I’m getting fed up with the self-appointed nannies who want to ban cigarettes, “Big Gulp” sodas, chocolate drinks, greasy foods and more. Enough!
It’s one thing to say, “Don’t do it.” It’s another thing to pass ordinances. Government must stop acting like our mothers or doctors.
Don’t miss ‘Payton’s Folly’ Wednesday evening
The Planning Commission will review the proposed Downtown Specific Plan — also known as Payton’s Folly” (named after the hired consultant in charge of “Utopian” planning for this kludge) — at 7 p.m. in City Hall council chambers. There’s a lot not to like here, so, as always, intelligent comment is welcome.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.