Public spaces where smokers can puff away continue to go up in smoke.
Over the years, Santa Monica has sought to restrict the places where lighting up is allowed, placing various prohibitions on smoking in areas like elevators, parks, the Pier, public beaches, outdoor dining areas, on the Third Street Promenade, within any farmer’s market, in public parks, inside hotels, and inside or within 20 feet of the entrance (or open windows of) any public buildings.
If city council gets its way, two more areas could be added to the list: the common areas of any multi-unit housing facility (except designated smoking areas) and the sidewalk, street or other public right-of-way within 20 feet of any doorway or open window of a multi-unit housing building (except when not stationary and continuously moving through the area).
The current and proposed ordinances apply to a wide range of smoking devices, including cigarettes but also vape pens, pipes, cigars and other devices “used to burn any tobacco products, weed, plant, or any other combustible substance.” That includes cannabis.
Last Tuesday, Nov. 1, Councilmember Lana Negrete presented a council item suggesting the additional restrictions, citing her own experience with cigarette smoke regularly wafting into her child’s bedroom window.
“Someone sits outside every morning at 6:30 a.m. and smokes a cigarette and it goes right into my kid’s bedroom and it sucks because there’s nothing I can do about it the way the ordinance is written now,” Negrete said. The Councilmember said she had also received multiple complaints from other apartment dwellers who said they were experiencing something similar.
“It’s become a real issue,” Negrete said. “It’s just something that exists when you’re living in an apartment building and sharing common space.”
All six councilmembers present at the hearing supported the move, although Councilmember Gleam Davis said she was concerned over enforcement and other ramifications. Davis said she anticipated that landlords might allege violations of the new ordinance as a cover for tenant harassment and that adding the language to the municipal code might create a burden on police officers who are already spread thin.
“Sorry to be sort of nitpicky about this, but I can envision — sorry — that property manager would say, ‘Look, you’re just walking back and forth; you’re not transitioning through the area. You’re not going from this block to that block, you’re walking up and down the block,’ and then they call the police,” Davis predicted. “And now, all of a sudden, we have a tenant who’s saying, ‘I’m being harassed by my property management company or my landlord because I’m trying to comply with the law and moving, but apparently I’m not moving in the right direction.’” Later, Davis also pointed out that many smokers live in units where smoking is prohibited, meaning they would need to go outside into the public right-of-way — including users of medical marijuana, who can still be banned from smoking the substance in some rental units designated non-smoking.
In response to Davis’ concerns, City Manager David White said the language for the proposed ordinance was not finalized; council was merely requesting that city staff prepare language for later city council approval.
“I have not spent a lot of time with the police chief and our community development director on enforcement of this ordinance, so I do need some time to work through this with them,” White said, later adding, “I can assure the council that it’s going to take us some time to respond to calls for smoking, in the grand scheme of what we’re dealing with, so we’ve got to work through how this will actually work. We need some space to work through some of these issues. This discussion is very helpful to us as we go back and try to figure out: how would we enforce such an ordinance?”
All six councilmembers present at the Tuesday hearing approved the move, with Mayor Sue Himmelrich absent.