(photo by Brandon Wise)

CITYWIDE — Rent Control Board Commissioner Robert Kronovet may have faltered in his first attempt to ban smoking inside Santa Monica apartments, but that doesn’t mean he’s giving up.

Despite a lack of support for the idea from his colleagues and a legal opinion from the Rent Control Board’s general counsel that the board has no authority to pass a ban, Kronovet said he plans to keep pushing the issue and could bring it back before the Rent Control Board.

“I certainly have that right,” he said. “I think it’s a crucial issue.”

At last Thursday’s Rent Control Board meeting Kronovet made a motion asking his colleagues to draft a letter urging the City Council to pass an outright ban on smoking in apartment buildings but failed to win support from any of the other four commissioners.

The vote came after a lengthy public comment period that featured speakers for and against the ban.

Beth Miller, who has asthma, said she moved to Santa Monica because she believed it had the cleanest air in the Los Angeles area. But with neighbors who smoke, she said her apartment has become so unlivable she’s had to temporarily move in with a friend.

“I can’t open my windows and I don’t have AC in there and I can’t breathe,” she said in an interview.

Miller, who is part of Santa Monicans for Non-Smoking Renters Rights, said her group is planning to meet next week to decide its next move. She said she supports lobbying the City Council to first take the “incremental step” of banning smoking on apartment balconies and patios.

“That’s what we were going to do before Kronovet had proposed this total ban,” she said.

Marilyn Korade-Wilson, who chairs the Rent Control Board, said some of the proponents of a smoking ban who spoke at last week’s meeting had compelling stories, but emphasized the board could not act on its own to limit smoking in apartments.

“So many people came out and had their say, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not something that’s within our purview,” she said. “It would not be legal for us to mandate that smoking be banned in apartments.”

While she acknowledged Kronovet could place the issue on a future agenda, she said she hoped the board would avoid the issue at least until city staff has conducted a review of the effectiveness of City Hall’s common-area smoking ban, which took effect in January.

“It seems appropriate to have an evaluation of how it’s been perceived prior to any other action,” she said.

Kronovet said he continues to disagree that the Rent Control Board lacks jurisdiction to pass its own ban on smoking in apartments.

“I don’t see it that way. I believe deeply in my heart that every elected official’s first responsibility is public health and safety,” he said.

Kronovet, who owns a real estate company and describes himself as a private property rights advocate, has meanwhile insisted that he supports a smoking ban simply as a way to protect tenants from the ill effects of secondhand smoke. He has denied that a ban on smoking would lead to evictions, pointing out that under the outright ban smoking wouldn’t be illegal but rather would make transgressors subject to a fine.

He dismissed criticism that he could be pushing the issue because of an ulterior motive, like running for City Council.

“It seems that any proposal advanced by a housing provider is viewed as inherently bad,” he said. “The reality is that I happen to be a true tenant advocate.”

Kronovet said he plans to continue advocating for the ban with the non-smokers group and could bring the issue up with the City Council, though he has not yet met with any councilmember.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us. This issue is not over. We have just begun to fight,” he said.

Reached on Tuesday, Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor, though, said if the issue comes before the council, it won’t be her doing. O’Connor currently sets the council agendas since Mayor Ken Genser has been absent for several meetings due to health issues.

“I’m not initiating it,” she said.

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