Should smoking be banned in multi-unit dwellings in Culver City? That was the question mulled at the City Council’s meeting Monday night. The answer did not come easily.
The item before the Council was an action item but not one that required a vote. The Council was asked to consider what action to recommend to city staff to either bring back as an ordinance or to not take action.
Heather Baker, from the City Attorney’s office, noted in the staff report that while existing state and federal laws provide for prohibitions on smoking in multi-unit residences, the current City municipal code does not include any prohibitions or restrictions on smoking. Such restrictions are the prerogative of the individual landlords of rental properties or the governing boards or homeowners associations of condos and townhomes.
Leaving the decision to ban smoking up to private management was the right thing to do, according to several speakers, including the representative of a homeowner’s association and the Culver City Chamber of Commerce’s Goran Erikssen, who, while admitting that he never smoked, added “There are limits to where the government should interfere.”
Other speakers emphasized the health risks of allowing second-hand smoke to drift from apartment to apartment. They even mentioned the phenomenon of “third-hand smoke” that seeps into walls and ceilings and stays there, affecting occupants for a long time.
A woman from a condo association said that when a neighbor of hers smoked at night, she felt “as if ants were attacking me.” And a man who lives in an apartment complex stated that he was concerned for his newborn son’s health.
Caught between cautions about dangerous toxins being breathed involuntarily by non-smokers, and concerns about government action leading to a “police state,” Council members tried to find a solution that would be fair to both sides.
“I appreciate those who have spoken against this ban,” said Meghan Sahli-Wells, “but [there is evidence] that shows we do not have a constitutional right to smoke.” She was in favor of restrictions on smoking in apartments and condos but thought that an exception should be made for medical marijuana which might be necessary to a resident’s health.
Other Council members agreed that smoking was a health hazard but that, for a local government to pass legislation against smoking, much less attempt to enforce such legislation, they could be setting a problematic precedent.
“I don’t want to have residents cited for infractions,” said Jim Clarke. He described how his condo requires that a resident receive a notice for violating such rules as not having a towel hanging from a balcony. “If I continue to do it, I get a fine.” Regulations established by and enforced by the residence can be effective, Clarke concluded.
Eleven cities in Los Angeles County (including Baldwin Park, Calabasas, Pasadena, and Santa Monica) have passed anti-smoking regulations for smoking in multi-unit housing. Mayor Jeff Cooper asked staff how these regulations were being enforced.
“Some have private enforcement, some have police enforcement, some have both,” was staff’s reply.
Enforcement seemed to be a stumbling block-could enforcement of a regulation be left to individuals filing complaints?
Andy Weissman suggested that Council submit to staff a “laundry list” of suggestions. Staff might return with a draft ordinance featuring “options.”
Such an ordinance might allow smoking in open spaces but not in common areas like lobbies or patios; would create smoking and non-smoking sections of buildings, would outline enforcement procedures and options, and would be “phased in” gradually.
With these suggestions, staff told the Council they had enough information to draft some language and will return to Council at a later date.
In other actions, the Council approved sponsorship for the 8th Annual Earthfest LA at West Los Angeles College on September 28.
The Council did not approve sponsorship and in-kind financial assistance for the Los Angeles Antiques Art and Design Show, scheduled to take place later this year in the Hayden Tract.
The art and antiques show had formerly been held in Santa Monica and its organizers had hoped to get support from Culver City as an appropriate sponsor. However, the Council demurred at the idea of spending city funds for the event.
The environmental EarthFest has previously been sponsored by Culver City and received approval again by Council members.