Berkeley City Council votes to amend proposed smoking ban

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Berkeley City Council may implement a smoking ban in multiple-unit housing in March of next year.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the council discussed a proposed smoking ban and referred it back to city staff to enhance the effectiveness of enforcement policies. The policies would have added nonsmoking clauses to leases and allowed residents to file claims against their neighbors for violating the ban on smoking.

Multiple-unit housing refers to all buildings with more than one living unit, such as apartments, fraternities and nursing homes. The ordinance aims to protect residents from involuntary exposure to secondhand smoking.

After much discussion, the council decided the new regulations ought to be enforced by a procedure similar to that used for a barking-dogs ordinance, which requires two neighbors to file complaints and subjects violators to a possible infraction citation, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

But Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, the only one to vote against the motion, is worried that the changes might result in smokers being unfairly evicted from their homes. For him, the current recommendations were already a good compromise between the housing security of smokers and the well-being of their neighbors.

“My main concern is we’ve really tried to craft a law that discouraged evictions, and now the council’s actively talking about encouraging evictions,” Arreguin said. “The direction the council moved in is a step backwards.”

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, however, thought protecting public health should take priority over protecting tenants from eviction.

“If I repeatedly smoke in my unit, and I am damaging the health of the people around me, I deserve to be evicted,” Capitelli said at the meeting.

These recommendations follow a previous City Council meeting held in May. According to Arreguin, a smoking ban has been in development for six years.

Liz Williams, project manager for the nonprofit Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, agrees with the council’s decision to draft new regulations. At the meeting, she noted the need for more enforcement from a city agency.

“Our organization cannot support the ordinance as it is currently written due to the lack of city enforcement,” she said during public comment. “The primary enforcement mechanism in the ordinance puts the burden entirely on a nonsmoking neighbor.”

The amended ordinance requires that landlords notify tenants of its terms in January, according to Chakko. The new regulations themselves will be unknown until council members receive another draft from the city’s Health and Community Services Department staff, he said.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that the result will be an enforceable ordinance that protects the health of Berkeley residents in multi-unit housing,” Williams said. “Nobody wants their family to get sick from a neighbor’s drifting smoke.”

Contact Melissa Wen at [email protected].

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