WeHo Council Reverses Course, Sets Total Ban on Smoking in Apartments/Condos to Begin in a Year

After voting at its Feb. 1 meeting to make it a goal to have multi-family residential buildings become tobacco-smoke free at some unspecified point in the future, the West Hollywood City Council reversed course Monday night and voted 4-1 to set the date for banning tobacco smoking in all apartment/condominium buildings as March 1, 2022.

Councilmember John Erickson brought the issue up, saying he felt the Council should go ahead and set that smoke-free date for a year from now.

“I do believe that if the city is going to be bold and really look at how we’re protecting residents, in understanding how we protect them from second-hand smoke which is extremely deadly, myself being an asthma person, I think that we should be bold, select a date and really do it,” said Erickson. “We don’t need a survey, we don’t need a registry, if we’re going to do it, staff will figure it out.”

Smokers in existing units will NOT be exempted. In the earlier ordinance, tobacco smokers in existing units were grandfathered in, but not in this one. All units, whether a new or an existing tenant, will become smoke free in a year, both inside the unit and on the patio/balcony. All common areas will also be smoke-free.

Single family homes and duplexes are exempt from the smoking ban, as are special needs housing facilities for people with disabilities, including substance addiction.

At its Feb. 1 meeting, the Council agreed that eventually banning smoking in apartment and condominium buildings was a worthy goal, one they should work toward after getting input from the residents. However, Monday night, Erickson said he didn’t think getting input was necessary.

Approximately 15% of West Hollywood residents smoke tobacco, compared to an estimated 10% of California residents.

This ordinance does not affect smoking cannabis which will still be allowed in all residential buildings unless the building specifically prohibits it.

Councilmember Sepi Shyne had reservations, noting tobacco smoking is addictive. She pointed out the stress of the coronavirus pandemic has caused more people to smoke and worried how this total ban might affect them.

“I want to make sure we’re not punishing people rather than taking a progressive stand,” said Shyne.

She insisted that the city have smoking cessation programs and tools in place to help residents quit before agreeing to support the item.

Code compliant manager Danny Rivas said the ordinance will be difficult to enforce since they would have to collect evidence to prove that people were smoking tobacco in order to issue a citation.

Rivas said other cities that have gone smoke free report they issue a lot of warning notices but very few citations due to the need to collect that evidence. He expected the same to be true in West Hollywood.

If someone is fined, the first citation is $250, the second citation is $500, the third is $1,000. Each of those fines also carries a $50 administrative fee.

At an earlier meeting, the Council declared tobacco smoking cannot be used as a cause for eviction. The landlord will not be fined if a tenant is caught smoking. Only the tenant will be fined.

Councilmember Lauren Meister voted against the smoking ban, but did not offer an explanation for her vote. However, in previous meetings, she indicated she would only support going smoke-free if the city did proper outreach to residents, landlords and condominium homeowners associations to get their input.

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