On Tuesday night, the Vallejo City Council decided to bring the wet matches.
With Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell and councilmember Hakeem Brown recused, the council voted 4-1 in favor of an ordinance prohibiting smoking in and around multi-use residences and other accessible places. The lone no vote came from councilmember Cristina Arriola.
The new ordinance amends Chapter 7.68 of the Vallejo Municipal Code — Regulation of Smoking in Public Places and Work Places.
The proposed amendments are designed to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke in multi-unit residences which house many of the city’s most vulnerable residents, according to the city staff report.
It states that secondhand smoke exposure in multi-unit housing contributes to tobacco-related health inequities. The report gives the example that in California, when compared with adults who live in single-family homes, adults who live in multi-unit housing are more likely to be people of color; lower income or below the poverty line; and/or uninsured. Additionally, secondhand smoke in multi-unit housing is a significant threat to the health and safety of children.
The issue was brought up with an hour of comments two weeks ago, but the council decided to delay on the issue due to only four council members being present to vote at the time. While the issue seemed to be split at the April 26 meeting, the majority of the public speakers this time seemed to in favor of passing the ordinance, although many speakers wanted the ordinance re-written to remove cannabis. Many of the public speakers argued that many patients needed cannabis for medical purposes and weren’t allowed to smoke it in any other place.
But for many like Vice Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga, the issue was an easy decision and she thanked many people including many young students for bringing up the subject even when it was “unpopular.”
“It’s a moral duty for me to support this ordinance without an exemption,” Verder-Aliga said. “It’s a slam dunk for me. I didn’t not flinch when this came to the council … I had a dad who smoked until the age of 65 and he quit because he wanted to live longer. Thank God he lived to 94. There are smoking sensation classes in the county and please take advantage of that.”
That was the same for councilmember Katy Miessner.
“My mom stopped smoking in her house because she didn’t want the nurse to find out,” Miessner said. “So she went out on the porch and smoked. If my mother could do it … so in honor of my mom, I’m supporting this. I want to thank the youth that came out and spoke, you guys are awesome and keep up the great work.”
Public speaker Joseph Hayden was in favor of the ordinance as well.
“I was a huge supporter for the decriminalization of (cannabis),” Hayden said. “So the fact that some people are still trying to say that this is an anti-cannabis bill just doesn’t sit well with me. Second-hand smoke of all kinds can drift throughout a multi-use housing building through doors, windows and hallways, baseboards and ventilation systems, light fixtures, etc. Smoke is smoke.”
Public speaker Brian Davis, who has lung disease and runs LGBT Tobacco, urged cannabis smokers to attempt to buy inhalers and said even if they are tough to find.
“Their use not only protects the health of neighbors, but also are healthier for the user,” Davis said. “Twenty seven dollars, you can get them for at a retailer in Oakland. And these are harder to find but they can be ordered wholesale by Vallejo cannabis dispensaries via a link.”
Calyn Kelley, the Vallejo Project Director for YTAPP, originally was on one side of the fence with the issue, but over time changed his mind. Kelley once had paralysis and smoking helped ease the pain, but he decided to smoke outdoors, even though he said it was an unpopular opinion at the time.
“It seems you are all going to have to choose a side and the side you choose may not make you popular,” Kelley said to the council. “But it will make you courageous if it’s the correct choice. Some of you councilmembers are mothers. Would any of you tell me that it’s OK to have someone in your multi-use unit to be smoking medicinal, recreational marijuana or anything else while you are in any portion of your term? I’m just going to leave that question out there.
“Nobody is trying to take cannabis away,” Kelley continued. “We’re just trying to say that there should be viable alternatives so that everyone has the same human right to same fresh air. That is not so much of an ask that it takes weeks and months and years for a contemplation. There are cities like Benicia that have already had the courage to do this.”
However, not everyone was in favor of the issue without rewording. Arriola says originally she thought issue was open and shut and only about cigarettes. Now she says she is seeing all sides and sees it as “a flawed ordinance and needs a do-over.”
Public speaker Ruscal Cayangyang urged the council to not rush through legislation and was in favor of the council to reword it.
“It needs more amendments, especially concerning sage and the religious exemption,” Cayangyang said. “So I wouldn’t rubber stamp this issue tonight. It needs more amendments, it needs more work. We should not rush legislation and we need the time to craft the best legislation.”
The proposed ordinance specifies that enforcement of smoking prohibitions in enclosed areas, places of employment, and certain unenclosed areas shall be handled by any peace officer or code enforcement official, according to the city staff report. Enforcement of smoking prohibitions in multi-unit residences and commercial multi unit property is the responsibility of the landlord or other party responsible for setting rules (e.g., property manager, homeowners’ association, condominium board, etc.).
That same staff report said that private citizens (including employees and tenants) may bring legal action to enforce the regulations. Landlords and others who are responsible for setting rules in multi-unit properties (e.g., property managers, homeowners’ associations, condominium boards, etc.) will have the following responsibilities under the ordinance …
- Providing notice to tenants, prospective tenants, buyers and residents of the prohibition of smoking requirements by the effective date of the ordinance; and
- Posting “No Smoking” signs in areas where smoking is prohibited by the effective date of the ordinance.
- Additionally, landlords must include “no smoking” requirements in any occupancy agreements entered into, renewed, or continued beginning 60 days after the effective date of the ordinance