Public Comment

New: Open Letter to the Berkeley City Council Regarding Second Hand Smoke in Rental Units

By Carol Denney
Tuesday June 04, 2013 - 03:19:00 PM

About half of Berkeley residents live in multi-unit housing. But only 15% of those units are covered by rent control. The low income tenants in my building get no help from the rent board, and cannot afford lawyers to assist with disputes. 

The Rent Board’s concerns about lease alterations are currently being used to avoid strong secondhand smoke protections for everyone, whether they fall under the rent board’s jurisdiction or not. 

I’m a three time cancer survivor who has been working for years to encourage the City of Berkeley to step into the forefront of public health by instituting secondhand smoke protections for the majority of people in multi-unit housing; nonsmokers, who are currently at the mercy of secondhand smoke and can’t afford to move or hire attorneys. 

Please help us. The current draft is so weak that it provides little or no public health advantage. While I salute wholeheartedly the campaign to educate and inform people about the effects of secondhand smoke, I remember well the signage and education which were supposed to accompany the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative’s smoking regulations, which were later minimized to the point where few can tell what regulations apply where. 

We need strong protections: the recognition that secondhand smoke is a nuisance, a sunset on grandfathering those who currently smoke indoors, disclosure requirements, and the city’s help with enforcement. It is silly to suggest that a police force willing to address barking dogs as a nuisance would be directed to pass on complaints about secondhand smoke, a Class A carcinogen, which does both immediate and long-term harm to our own and our families’ health. 

The city may in fact need complex constraints on secondhand smoke protections for rent controlled tenants, although it is difficult to believe any lease, under any circumstance, would be allowed to codify behavior which is immediately deadly to at-risk tenants. 

But if that is the case, please let the rest of us have a strong law modeled on Richmond’s shining example. There have been no evictions under Richmond’s law according to those who organized to write and institute it. 

Please remember; few people smoke in Alameda County (12%), and the enormous majority of them already smoke outside their homes and support smokefree regulations. They have already adjusted to the norm of avoiding exposing other people for all the obvious reasons. 

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.