Agreeing to disagree
Opponents of the forthcoming apartment smoking ban find common ground: it ain’t gonna work
By Jake Armstrong 04/21/2011
Paul Little and Nancy Sagatelian won’t be sharing a cigarette to mark the passage of a ban on smoking in Pasadena’s condos and apartments, which could become reality in about three months.
But Little, head of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, whose membership opposes such a crackdown inside the city’s 33,700 apartment and condo units by 2014, and Sagatelian, one of the most vocal proponents of a faster and further-reaching prohibition, do agree the ban will be practically unenforceable if the Pasadena City Council approves it.
That’s because the council stripped the proposed ordinance of the one feature that would give it real teeth in addressing a problem 72 percent of apartment dwellers want halted altogether — the declaration of secondhand smoke as a public nuisance, which would have given city enforcers and residents much wider latitude in where they confront offenders, who would face a far-stiffer $500 fine rather than the $100 now proposed, they say.
Moreover, a 2008 ban the city placed on smoking in most public places has generated just 10 citations out of the complaint-based system the city uses to enforce that ordinance, leaving even more enforcement questions swirling around a city trimming staff to cope with a $5 million budget shortfall. Add to that the fact that money for enforcing the apartment smoking ban would come from the same pot that funds enforcement of the 2008 outdoor ban and pays for inspectors to ensure stores aren’t selling smokes to minors, an effort that reduced the illegal sales rates to almost zero in recent years. About $58,000 is in that fund, which is filled with fees placed on tobacco sellers, and $8,000 of that will be used toward administrative expenses, according to city staff.
“The reality is, it is very difficult in any circumstances to enforce something like this and, given that they have a little opportunity to prove where smoke originated, I think they’re going to be about as effective on this as they are on the others,” Little said.
Sagatelian said the council’s removal of the nuisance declaration, and the lengthy lag time before the ordinance takes effect in 100 percent of units, marked its “narrow-minded” approach. “I don’t know how much they are going to enforce this one, especially without the nuisance portion. They took the teeth out of it,” said Sagatelian, though she added that any tobacco ban is a step in the right direction.
Statice Wilmore, the city’s tobacco control coordinator, said any additional costs or tweaks to the ordinance can take place a year after it passes, which is when the council, which voted unanimously for staff to craft an ordinance, wants staff to return with a report on how the ordinance worked in its first year. She said it could take longer than that before the smoking public catches on. “It really takes about a year to 18 months to really allow for the public to get used to the enforcement and to get used to the new laws that have been adopted,” she said.
Little said he doesn’t want to see the city spend any more money on smoking enforcement. “Chasing a smoker here and there doesn’t seem to be a high spending priority. But if they are going to do it out of existing funds, that’s fine, because they don’t really do anything now with it anyway,” he said.
City staff is expected to return to the council in less than two months with a draft ordinance, which would begin with a ban on smoking in apartment common areas and balconies, for council members to consider.