The Latest Installment in Smokefree Housing – Part 2

Last week we posted the first half of an interview with Smokefree Air For Everyone (S.A.F.E.) on their campaign for smokefree housing in Santa Monica. Today we learn more about their lessons learned from their efforts.

Center: Can you share some of the lessons learned from the campaign?

S.A.F.E.: Santa Monica has several city commissions and we presented to them more than once, so the leaders of the community were aware of our campaign. The Disability Commission wrote a letter in favor of regulating smoking in apartments. The leaders of the Democratic Club spoke vehemently against us. (That hurt.)

But we were very fortunate that most of our coalition members stuck with us over the years. We were also fortunate that our coalition continued to grow; new people joined throughout the campaign. Also, our coalition members, who at first had been very shy about speaking, became great speakers; their passion for the issue was central to the success of the campaign.

Success happened a little at a time. At first the city council members ignored us. We would speak during public comment time, which was as the end of the meeting, frequently as late as 1 am, when council members were drifting quietly away. Finally, after two years of effort, the council enacted no smoking in the common areas of apartments and condos. Two years after that, due to our tenacity, the city council enacted no smoking on balconies and patios of apartments and condos on September 9, 2010.

Center: What does the new ordinance require?

S.A.F.E.:The newest ordinance requires that all new apartment and condominium buildings are entirely non-smoking, including units, balconies, patios and common areas. Also, all new vacancies in existing apartments and condominium buildings are required to be non-smoking.

Apartment owners, beginning November 22, 2012, must conduct a poll of existing tenants by asking one question: “Do you want your unit to be considered a no-smoking unit or a smoking permitted unit?” This designation will then apply to the unit. If the tenant does not respond, the unit will be considered un-designated. Beginning in January 2013, landlords must provide a chart showing smoking-permitted, no-smoking and undesignated units to current and prospective tenants. In addition, the city is providing a 2-page information sheet about the ordinance which landlords are required to distribute to their tenants.

There are similar requirements for condominiums.

Center: Anything else you want to add?

S.A.F.E.:The magic word is PERSISTANCE – never giving up. Always coming up with new things to do and try out – to keep people involved and motivated. Our coalition held a forum for the community. It was not well attended, but it kept our members involved. The coalition did all the planning and our speakers were exceptional.

The coalition was really key to the success achieved in Santa Monica. We could not have succeeded without their loyalty. They began to understand the nature of policy development and that we couldn’t get everything we wanted as fast as we wanted it. They were patient even though many of them continued to be affected by a neighbor’s tobacco smoke.

Lastly, the media was another key to our success as well. Natalie, an elderly lady who was living in affordable housing and getting sick from her neighbor’s tobacco smoke, complained to the local newspaper. The paper published several stories about her situation. In addition, the editor of the paper, which had been opposing us, suddenly changed and wrote several strong editorials in favor of our efforts. A writer/resident for the paper, who specialized in ironic humor, also took up our cause. We developed a very good relationship with him which led to better and funnier columns. So maybe it’s not just persistence, but also ironic humor which in the end wins the day.

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