Some say that it’s impolite to discuss politics and religion. (I’m not sure who originally coined that expression but I’m guessing it wasn’t someone from the religious right.) Rest assured, I won’t be discussing religion.
So, speaking of politics, it’s also said that it makes strange bedfellows. I recall some 20 years ago where there was a political battle that did just that. The lines were drawn between developers, merchants and even city staff and Ocean Park residents, and was fought over a proposed parking garage on Main Street.
The debate was so heated that I remember former Mayor Judy Abdo speaking before the City Council, lamenting that she had lost long-term friends over the issue. Being opposed to the garage, I also spoke and remember the speaker after me, in favor of the structure, viciously excoriated an opponent. I thought to myself, “Wow, he sure dislikes someone.” Moments later, I realized it was me!
Currently I sense that same political tension, only this time it’s over second-hand smoke. But first, in the name of full disclosure, I live in a rent-controlled apartment. And frankly I panic when my neighbors move out for fear the new ones will be cigar, cigarette or marijuana smokers. (The least offensive being pot smoke, which at least might bring back memories of Jimi Hendrix.)
So, you can imagine my delight when Tuesday, July 10, the City Council passed a law to ban smoking in apartments and condominiums for all new tenants. The debate was should residents in their own apartments be subjected to dangerous second-hand smoke from their neighbors? The vote was 4-2 with Gleam Davis absent. But apparently it’s not a done deal.
Through the political grapevine (OK, Starbucks gossip) it appears this Tuesday there will be a second reading of the ordinance and it’s quite possible that one of the “yes” votes (I’m speculating Terry O’Day’s) might morph into a “no.” It’s just a guess, but it’s also possible that Gleam Davis will vote no, meaning the proposed law would die.
Leading the council’s “clean-air” charge was Bobby Shriver, joined by Bob Holbrook, Mayor Richard Bloom and O’Day, who was originally appointed to the council and is up for re-election in November. It’s only natural that O’Day will want SMRR’s (Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights) endorsement but they’re against the law. Also against the law are Kevin McKeown and Pam O’Connor. These two don’t always vote together but did that night, thus the “strange bedfellows” reference.
The clean air advocates cite incontrovertible data documenting that second-hand smoke is considered a dangerous carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency. Many of the 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes (how do they pack so many in one cigarette?) are not only toxic, but they stick to surfaces.
Thus, if you ever enter an empty room that, weeks or even months later, still reeks of cigarettes, that’s third-hand smoke, which is also highly dangerous. (And in the 1950s there were TV commercials actually promoting the health benefits of smoking!)
SMRR and others, however, worry about the part of the law which requires tenants to identify their apartment to landlords as either a smoking or non-smoking unit. This would be part of the disclosure to prospective tenants. As it happens, years ago, a friend asked the landlord if her soon-to-be neighbors smoked and was told he didn’t think so. Days later she moved in only to discover her next-door neighbor was a heavy cigar smoker. Yikes!
Living in an apartment, I can attest that when your neighbor smokes you smoke, or at a minimum, your place smells like an ash tray. It’s uncanny how the insidious smoke sneaks through vents and electrical outlets and seeps through walls. (It all sounds like a cheap horror movie.)
And if your neighbor is a cigar smoker, it’s like you’ve suddenly got Arnold Schwarzenegger for a roommate. Speaking of whom, with the success of the “Expendables,” apparently Arnold’s back. All I can say is hide your housekeepers.
Many fear that landlords might use the law as added incentive to harass rent-control tenants. But how? If a prospective new tenant discovers his rent-control neighbor is a smoker and decides against moving in, realistically what’s a landlord going to do? (Especially since “Whitey” Bulger’s no longer in town.)
Selfishly, I hope the law passes because sooner or later some stogie-loving tenant is going to move next door to me and I’ll be forced to write these columns from my balcony. (Actually, I can’t do that because our building is currently undergoing facade repair which may generate falling asbestos dust. Doesn’t that sound delightful?)
Will Santa Monica protect current tenants from the dangerous second-hand smoke of new tenants? They say the “art” of politics is compromise. During the next few weeks I guess we’ll find out how many Van Gogh’s we have on the City Council.
(Editor’s note: This column originally appeared July 20, 2012.)
Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org