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Council Takes Measured Approach to New Smoking Ban

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By Jorge Casuso

January 11, 2022 -- The City Council Tuesday night got a brief glimpse of how difficult it could be to enforce its new anti-smoking provision when it had to use a measuring tape.

The distance measured -- the 20 feet recommended by staff -- was changed to 30 feet, which will be the distance a smoker in the public right-of-way must keep from an open window or door.

The final version also added the clarifying word alley to the public rights-of-way that include sidewalks and streets.

The Council's unanimous vote -- the latest tweak to Santa Monica's 13-year-old smoking ban in multi-family residential buildings -- applied and lengthened the 20-foot distance ban already in place for common areas.

That ban prohibits smoking on private balconies, patios and other areas "from which smoke can travel to other units and common areas."

But the ban failed to address smoking in a public right-of-way around a building, prompting complaints from several tenants who said they had repeatedly failed to get their neighbors to stop spreading second-hand smoke in their units.

But the new law raises enforcement issues. While building owners can enforce the smoking ban on their properties, the ban in public spaces must be enforced by police or code enforcement officers already busy with more serious violations, City officials said.

"Who's keeping track of the warnings," asked Councilmember Christine Parra.

The question prompted the assurance from City staff that the initial warning and subsequent citations would be issued in writing and could be readily tracked.

Councilmember Jesse Zwick worried that tenants smoking in a public space outside a building may not be aware they were breaking the law.

At his suggestion, the Council made it clear that a written warning would be issued before fines -- which would escalate with repeated violations -- would kick in.

The most significant tweak made by the Council Tuesday was increasing the distance a smoker must keep from on open door or window.

Councilmember Caroline Torosis, suggested doubling the recommended distance to 40 feet.

"I'm concerned about disadvantaging tenants," said Torosis, who served six years on the Rent Control Board. "Forty feet would unduly burden some folks."

To which Councilmember Lana Negrete, who proposed the new ban, responded, "Heath far outstrips convenience smoking a cigarette."

Torosis was assured the new law expressly ensures that violations cannot be used as grounds for eviction.

When Council members had trouble visualizing the proposed distances, City Attorney Doug Sloan, who came from Fresno, compared 20 feet to the length of a large pick-up truck.

But the Council had trouble visualizing the rural measuring guideline, so a tape measure was brought up to the dais and stretched out 20 feet.

In the end, Council members settled for the length of two-and-a-half large pick-up trucks.

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