CITY HALL — The City Council voted Tuesday to restrict smoking in new hotels, but held off implementing rules on multi-unit housing until staff could address concerns about privacy and compatibility with federal and state financing laws.

If passed on second reading, the new rule will ban smoking from all new hotels and allow existing hotel owners to designate their hotels smoking or non-smoking.

The change will have an immediate impact as at least one application to build a new hotel is expected within the next 90 days, said City Manager Rod Gould.

Council members passed the measure 5-1, with City Councilmember Kevin McKeown against. (Councilman Terry O’Day was not present.)

McKeown noted that the Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau had not been consulted on the new rule, and that it could hurt business from European vacationers who have a higher incidence of smoking than Americans.

Many hotels have already banned smoking, wrote Misti Kerns, president and CEO of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, but educating visitors on where smoking is permitted will be a citywide effort.

“Whether it be international travelers or visiting friends and family of residents, any ordinance of this magnitude will require a combined outreach effort to maintain our city’s welcoming environment,” she wrote.

Banning smoking in individuals’ homes, however, hit major resistance.

Multi-unit apartment and condominium buildings have shared ventilation, which spreads second-hand smoke from a smoker’s unit to the lungs of non-smokers.

That smoke comes loaded with known carcinogens, and has been proven to exacerbate asthma and other chronic illnesses in children and even cause cancer.

Although council members acknowledged the negative health impacts of second-hand smoke on children and adults, they had difficulty balancing health with both tenants’ rights and their own affordable housing policies.

As written, the ordinance would require apartment and condominium dwellers to declare their unit “smoking” or “non-smoking” within 90 days of the effective date of the ordinance.

If the resident doesn’t declare their unit, the unit defaults to a non-smoking unit.

The owner of the apartment or condominium would then post the results of that survey.

The units would remain smoking or non-smoking as long as the tenant continued to live there. After that tenancy ended, each unit would become non-smoking.

Units reserved for those transitioning from homelessness or addiction would be exempt.

Enforcement options vary from suing tenants who smoke in a non-smoking unit or making it a criminal infraction, much like it is to light up in some public places.

Critics worried that the proposed ordinance would make the right to smoke in one’s home a privilege reserved to the wealthy and that the disclosure violated smokers’ privacy.

Forcing a smoker to declare before his landlord and entire building was tantamount to disclosing that they were lowering the rent of the adjacent unit, McKeown said.

“And how do you enforce something like this?” he asked. “Will it be neighbors turning in neighbors? … Are we going to have police knocking on doors to check ashtrays?”

McKeown urged his fellow council members to wait for a new state law to take effect in January, which reaffirms a landlord’s right to make a building smoking or non-smoking.

The proposed ordinance has drawbacks for those trying to assign affordable housing, said Sarah Letts, executive director of Community Corporation of Santa Monica.

Community Corp manages 1,500 affordable housing units in Santa Monica, some of which were funded using state and federal money.

“We are heavily regulated. We have to make sure this proposed ordinance would not conflict with regulations on our buildings,” Letts said.

Additionally, elderly or disabled residents might not get their smoking designation in fast enough, which could lead to expensive fines or penalties those individuals could not afford.

“It would be especially difficult for people with fixed incomes, or those who failed to respond to our notices,” Letts said.

Advocates of the ban pointed to a simple fact — second-hand smoke presents a danger not just to the person producing it, but to everyone who breathes it.

Cambria Garell, a third year resident at UCLA, works in a free clinic in Santa Monica. Many of her patients are poor, and cannot afford to move away from smoking neighbors that negatively impact their health.

“I’ve had to write letters to landlords pleading for them to allow patients to move, often to no avail,” Garell said.

She urged the City Council to protect those young people by banning the practice.

Council members Bobby Shriver and Bob Holbrook, a pharmacist, pushed to pass the ordinance that night.

There’s a “strong tenant protection vibe” in Santa Monica, but that means all tenants, Shriver said.

“When you see the American Lung Association, American Heart Association and three pediatricians say that children are suffering, that poor children are suffering and can’t move, but we have to protect the castle of people blowing carcinogenic smoke into a ventilation system, that’s a hard argument to give to those families,” Shriver said.

A majority of council members present were not ready to act on the ordinance until staff clarified the impacts on existing affordable housing policies.

A 4-2 vote granted staff an undefined amount of time to come back to the council with details.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *