DOWNTOWN — There are many days warm or cool when the windows to Mike Horelick’s Santa Monica apartment remain shut, keeping out ocean breezes, the fragrance of a neighbor’s dinner and cigarette smoke.
It’s the latter that forces the local screenwriter to often seal his home, protecting his asthmatic 3-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son from the cigarette smoke that wafts from a neighbor’s patio a floor below.
“We shut the doors, we shut the windows, which is pretty inconvenient and not guaranteed to stop all the smoke anyway,” he said.
Horelick is part of a group of residents who are calling on the City Council to expand an ordinance that bans smoking in all common areas of apartments and condominiums to also apply to balconies and patios, arguing the current regulations, while a step in the right direction, don’t go far enough.
Smoking is currently illegal in most outdoor areas of the city, including the Third Street Promenade, Farmers’ Markets, dining areas, bus stops and ATM lines. The anti-smoking law was strengthened in January to include common areas of multi-unit residences, a controversial move that drew opposition from some landlords and rent-control advocates who feared that property owners would use the ordinance as a means to evict tenants.
Santa Monicans for Non-Smoking Renters Rights, formerly known as the Alliance for Protection from Secondhand Smoke in Apartments in Condominiums, issued a press release on Monday asking that the council not only update the ordinance to include patios and balconies, but also require landlords and condo owners to disclose the location of smoking and non-smoking units to potential tenants and buyers.
Esther Schiller, the executive director of Smoke Free Air for Everyone, which is a network of individuals affected by secondhand smoke, said that many cities are moving toward adopting comprehensive ordinances, which require that smoking and non-smoking units be separated over time and regulate the activity inside and outside of the buildings, creating places where it’s acceptable.
“It’s not an attempt to make it impossible for people who smoke to continue to smoke,” Schiller said.
The city of Oakland in 2007 became the first in California to require the designation and disclosure rule for all landlords and condo sellers. Approximately 85 percent of apartments in Oakland are non-smoking today.
Officials in Calabasas recently passed a stringent law that requires 80 percent of all apartment buildings and condos be permanently designated as nonsmoking. The law will not go into effect until 2012.
The local ordinance established a method through which residents could challenge a neighbor who smokes in a common area, allowing them to seek damages of at least $100 in court. The penalty goes up to $200 and $500 for the second and third offenses in the same year.
Councilwoman Gleam Davis, who was not on the council when the outdoor common area ban was adopted, said she is open to the idea of expanding the ordinance, but has concerns about landlords using the law to evict tenants.
She also has concerns about the impact to smokers who light up on balconies and patios because they have children inside.
“Certainly I recognize that all of the evidence is indisputable that secondhand smoke is incredibly dangerous and I think we need to do whatever we can to minimize nonsmokers’ exposure to it,” Davis said. “We have to look at the whole picture so we’re careful there’s no unintended consequences for renters and others in the city.”
Paul Scott, a cancer survivor who lived in an Ocean Park condo that he now rents to a tenant, said he’s dealt with smoke seeping through walls and drifting from neighbors’ balconies.
He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2002 and lost both of his parents, who were smokers, to cancer. His surgeon and oncologist said the cancer was caused by secondhand smoke.
“Contrary to what many people might think, I am not telling people who want to smoke they can’t, but I am very strict about their smoking interfering with other people’s rights to a clean environment,” Scott said.