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Council Revisits Smoking Ordinance


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November 3, 2022 -- If you've repeatedly told your neighboring tenant to stop smoking on the sidewalk under your apartment window but he refuses, what can you do?

a.) Call the police or code enforcement, although it's highly unlikely they'll have time to respond to such a minor violation.

b.) Report the smoking tenant to the building manager, who has no authority to enforce the law.

c.) Try to have the tenant evicted, a move expressly barred under the City's smoking ordinance.

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On Tuesday night, the City Council tried to find a way to address the problem by tweaking Santa Monica's 13-year-old smoking ban in multi-family residential buildings.

Strengthened by the Council in 2010, the law bans smoking within 20 feet of doors or open windows, in common areas and on private balconies, patios and other areas "from which smoke can travel to other units and common areas," according to City officials.

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But it doesn't address smoking in a public right-of-way around the building or how the ordinance can be enforced.

"The way the ordinance is written, the (building) manager cannot do anything to enforce it," said Councilmember Lana Negrete, who placed the item on the agenda.

"You have to call police," Negrete said. "That's not something that most people do, and even doing so doesn't really result in anything."

One proposed tweak to the smoking ordinance would deter a smoker from standing or sitting near an open window or door but allow the smoker to pass by.

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According to the proposed language, smoking would be prohibited "on the sidewalk, street, or other public right-of-way" withing the 20-foot-limit "except when not stationary and continuously moving through the area."

The language raised some concerns. What if the smoker paces back and forth under the window or past the door, Councilmember Gleam Davis wondered. Would that violate the ordinance?

Davis -- who noted the smoking laws covered medicinal marijuana -- worried that addressing the problem could put the City "in a difficult position."

"What is the enforcement?" Davis said. "I want to make sure that what we do is enforceable in a meaningful way."

The proposed changes to the ordinance addressed one of Davis' main concerns by expressly ensuring that violations "may not be used as grounds to terminate a tenancy."

But removing that threat, Davis acknowledged, leaves few enforcement options.

"It's put one more thing to be putting on police to be told they didn't come," Davis said. "In the hierarchy of priorities, smoking calls are not going to be up there."

Councilmember Phil Brock agreed.

"We don't enforce the public rules often," Brock said. "I tend to think it's a worthy addition, but I share the concern.

"How do we enforce this? We hope that maybe common courtesy will prevail."

In the end, the council directed staff by acclimation to return with proposed changes to the ordinance.

"I think we need to think about this more," Davis said.

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