The Mountain View City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night on a far-reaching ban on smoking, prohibiting residents from smoking tobacco or marijuana in all apartments, condos and other multi-unit housing properties.
The restrictions go into effect starting next year, taking a broad approach that includes all residential properties with three or more attached units. Residents will be barred from smoking inside units, in common areas and on private balconies and patios, as well as anywhere within 25 feet of homes.
Despite reservations that the anti-smoking ordinance would curtail personal liberties and lack equity for those who can't afford to live in single-family homes -- which would be exempt from the ban -- council members largely agreed that the health benefits and reduction in secondhand smoke outweigh the costs. The ordinance also makes a blanket prohibition on both recreational and medical marijuana use, raising concerns for those who rely on cannabis for treatment.
The ordinance builds on smoking restrictions passed by the city in 2012, which prohibited smoking in outdoor dining areas and public parks and buildings. Since then, numerous jurisdictions throughout the region have gone much further in curtailing when and where people are allowed to smoke cigarettes, making Mountain View the city with some of the most lax regulations.
Cities that have banned smoking in multi-unit housing include Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and Los Gatos, according to an analysis by Santa Clara County.
Councilwoman Sally Lieber said she supported the ordinance, describing tobacco as "one of the worst scourges around," and that children currently stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic are disproportionately impacted by secondhand smoke. Councilman Lucas Ramirez said the restrictions in the ordinance make sense, and that he himself is subject to smoke wafting through his windows into his apartment.
"It was annoying when I moved here, but it became downright miserable when I was confined here during the pandemic and had to work remotely," Ramirez said. "I have two windows that face the same direction and many neighbors who smoke, and especially during the summer months it just became unbearable. It was sweltering in here ... but I couldn't get any relief because if you open the windows smoke comes in."
A citywide survey in the lead-up to the May 25 council meeting found that 75% of respondents supported a ban of smoking and vaping of tobacco products inside multi-unit residences, while 21% opposed it. That number sinks to 48% for marijuana, with 21% believing medical marijuana should be exempt. Just shy of one-third of respondents said smoking is already banned in their homes.
City officials say newer complexes tend to prohibit smoking in all units and common areas, while older apartments are more likely to take a hands-off approach.
Anti-smoking groups including Breathe California gave heavy support for the ordinance, arguing that the law could go even further by extending the ban to include duplexes. Vanessa Marvin, a co-founder of Tobacco Free Coalition of Santa Clara County, said the ordinance would put all property managers and landlords on the same page, and that protections against secondhand smoke won't be eroded in the event that there is a change in ownership.
Andre Tomas, a resident and union representative for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 521, urged the council not to pass the ordinance, arguing the city has more important things to focus on. By including marijuana, residents reliant on medical marijuana would no longer be permitted to smoke in their own homes, he said.
"Passing this will alienate the members of our community that use marijuana for pain management and as treatment for a myriad of ailments in the privacy of their homes," he said.
Councilwoman Pat Showalter, the lone dissenting vote, said she acknowledges secondhand smoke as a big problem but nevertheless saw the ordinance as the city overstepping. While she said she hopes people don't smoke, it's not clear where people living in multifamily homes would be allowed to smoke under the new law.
"I feel that this is kind of an invasion of peoples' personal liberties," Showalter said. "This is not an appropriate thing for us to be doing."
Mayor Ellen Kamei acknowledged the balancing act of trying to protect people from secondhand smoke while letting residents choose what to do with their bodies, but ultimately landed on the side of the smoking restrictions.
"I believe everyone should be able to make their personal choices to smoke whatever they would like to, but I think in these cases we're thinking about the health and well-being of our community," Kamei said.
Starting Jan. 1, 2022, property owners will be required to begin enforcement of the smoking ban, which requires "no smoking" signs to be posted and new leases to reflect the anti-smoking rules. The ordinance includes a broad definition for what amounts to smoking, including different types of "combustion, electronic ignition, or vaporizations of all inhalation products, including, but not limited to, tobacco and medicinal and recreational marijuana."
City officials say none of the cities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties with similar anti-smoking ordinances granted an exemption for medical marijuana, and that the Santa Clara County Public Health Department advised against such an exemption.