On Tuesday, the City Council reworked a five-year-old notice aimed at helping people with multiple chemical sensitivities attend public meetings.
The notice is placed at the bottom of the agenda of every city-sponsored meeting and allows those with chemical sensitivities to attend the meetings without being exposed to undue amounts of chemical perfumes.
The wording the city has used for five years says simply that “attendees may be sensitive to various odors, whether natural or manufactured, in products or materials.”
With guidelines that broad, one might imagine that the Landmark Preservation Commission’s field trip to the Berkeley Rose Garden today could be considered in violation of the policy.
The new language, drafted by the city manager’s office, is more direct.
“The City Council requests that people refrain from wearing scented products to meetings,” it reads.
Councilmember Dona Spring, who spearheaded the effort to reform the language, said she was satisfied by the action.
“What we’ve got is certainly better than the confusing language we had,” she said.
Spring said she was disappointed, though, that the stronger version of the notice drafted by the Commission on Disability several months ago, was not given more serious consideration.
The commission’s version gives examples of various scented products – perfume, cologne, after-shave – and states that some people may be “seriously harmed” by exposure to them.
“I don’t think (the city manager’s version) goes far enough in educating the public about the fact that some people are so allergic to chemical products that they can be sick for days by exposure to scents,” Spring said on Wednesday.
Jon Kaufman, executive vice-president of Solem and Associates, disputed that claim, and excoriated the City Council’s new version of the notice.
“I don’t know that there’s any other city in the country that has language that’s more objectionable,” said Kaufman, whose firm represents the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.
Kaufman said there was no proof that moderate amounts of scented products causes physical damage to others.
“There is really no medical basis for thinking that perfume causes these problems,” he said.
Kaufman said his firm had not opposed the city’s original version of the notice because “scented products” were not mentioned by name.
He added that he opposed the very principle of chemical sensitivity notices on governmental meeting notices.
“While individuals are sometimes affected by someone else’s perfume, people usually work it out on a person-by-person basis,” he said. “We just think it’s better that way.”
Spring disputed the notion, saying that multiple chemical sensitivity has been recognized as an illness in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“There is so much discrimination against these people, because the medical establishment, until recently, thought of it as a mental illness,” she said.
The city manager’s office notes that notices similar to the one passed by the City Council are used by the city of Oakland and BART trustees.