CITY HALL — Having failed, so far, to convince the City Council to enact a ban on smoking inside apartment units, Rent Control Board Commissioner Robert Kronovet is planning to take his pitch for stricter smoking laws directly to the voters.

Kronovet on Tuesday filed papers with the City Clerk’s Office declaring his intention to begin gathering signatures needed to place a multi-unit residential smoking ban on the November ballot.

The proposed ballot measure, which he’s calling the “Safe Air for Everyone Initiative,” would ban smoking in virtually all multi-unit residences in Santa Monica and on private patios and balconies in apartment and condo buildings.

Police officers or code enforcement would be responsible for enforcing the ban with a $500 fine for a first violation and a $1,000 fine for a second violation. Failing to heed the ban could not be used as grounds for eviction, according to the text of the proposed initiative, and harassing or retaliating against “any other person who seeks to attain compliance” with the ban would be a misdemeanor.

“I could not get the City Council or the Rent Control Board to act on behalf of the residents, so I’m taking responsibility on my shoulders and putting it to the voters,” Kronovet said on Tuesday.

If he’s successful getting the initiative on the ballot — he’ll need to gather thousands of signatures to qualify — Santa Monica residents could be the first to have their say on such a ban at the polls.

“As far as I know, no one else has done this,” said Esther Schiller, executive director of the group Smoke Free Air for Everyone. “This would definitely be something new.”

Schiller said at least one other town, Belmont, in Northern California, has banned smoking in muli-unit buildings, but the law was adopted by the City Council, not through a general election.

“A lot of people are going to be watching this pretty closely,” she said.

To get the initiative on the ballot in November, Kronovet and his supporters will have to gather around 10,000 signatures, or an amount totaling at least 15 percent of the number of registered voters in Santa Monica, according to Assistant City Clerk Beth Sanchez. In February, there were about 61,000 people registered to vote in town, she said.

A signed petition should be submitted to the City Clerk by mid-May to qualify for the November ballot.

City Hall has already adopted smoking restrictions that are among the toughest in the state, banning smoking in parks, at bus stops, on restaurant and bar patios and in public places like the Third Street Promenade. Most recently, the council voted to ban smoking in public areas of multi-unit properties.

With Kronovet as a lead spokesman, though, a group of activists in recent months has continued to argue City Hall’s secondhand smoke protections don’t go far enough and have pressed the City Council to take further action. They’ve also criticized the existing ban on smoking in apartment buildings’ public areas for requiring residents to enforce the law themselves by filing a complaint in civil court.

So far, no council member has expressed interest in extending the ban to include the interiors of apartment and condominium units.

Patricia Hoffman, who chairs the leading local political party Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, said she has reservations about such a ban.

“I would hate to turn local law enforcement into bedroom police,” Hoffman said. “How do you enforce a ban on people smoking, which is a legal activity, in their own homes?”

As a board member of affordable housing provider Community Corp. of Santa Monica, which has more than 1,400 residential units in the city, Hoffman said complaints about a neighbor’s smoking habit have rarely turned into significant problems.

“We’ve had occasional issues of smoking and we’ve been able to resolve them internally,” she said.

She also said the fact that smoking indoors would be viewed as a nuisance under the proposed ordinance means it could lead to more evictions, despite assurances included in the ballot measure as drafted.

Kronovet, who is a realtor, said the proposed ban is simply a way to protect residents’ health and preserve their right to a tranquil environment.

“It’s a very terrible thing to pay money and not be able to live in your unit [because of secondhand smoke],” he said.

Banning smoking in homes, he said, is no different from limiting the permissible level of noise a resident can make.

His ultimate goal is to extend the smoking ban to residential units, no matter how it’s accomplished.

“The initiative could also trigger the council to have another look at it. We’ll see,” he said.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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