SF’s proposed ban on smoking in apartments fails to pass in second vote

In an unusual turn of events, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday rejected a proposed ban on smoking or vaping tobacco in apartments that it voted for just last week.

The board must approve legislation in two separate votes. Ordinarily, the second vote is perfunctory.

But not this time. Supervisors decided not to approve Board President Norman Yee’s proposed ban on smoking in apartments on its second vote after approving the proposal last week in a 10-1 vote.

In a 6-to-5 vote, the board voted to send the legislation back to committee. The motion was opposed by Yee along with supervisors Ahsha Safai, Catherine Stefani, Sandra Fewer and Rafael Mandelman.

Supervisor Dean Preston was the only nay vote on the legislation last week, after he highlighted the concerns raised by tenant advocates such as the Housing Rights Committee about the impacts it could have on longstanding renters, including fines of up to $1,000 per day and the potential for tenant harassment. The proposal does say a violation could not be grounds for an eviction.

Preston made a motion last week to send the legislation back to a board committee for further debate, but it failed in a 6-to-5 vote.

But this time, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who opposed Preston’s motion last week, made a motion to send it back to committee himself. Peskin said that he heard from many long-term tenants on fixed income raising concerns about the proposal since his vote and he was “remarkably moved in the last week by what I have heard from them.”

“I really am fearful that the unintended impacts could cause more harm to long term tenants in my district and other districts,” Peskin said. “I do want to address the harm of secondhand smoke in multi-unit residential buildings, but I think there are better ways to address this.”

Preston noted last week that the ban would likely mostly impact long-term tenants who signed leases before it became the standard for landlords to put no-smoking provisions into the agreements.

Fewer had suggested the board approve the proposal and then have Peskin “revise and refine further protections for tenants” at a later time.

“Secondhand smoke in apartment buildings is a very real issue,” Fewer said. “I’ve heard from many of my tenants also just in my district about the cigarette smoke that is permeating through their hallways and their apartment buildings every single day.”

Yee’s proposal also sparked backlash in the cannabis industry because it initially banned the smoking of both tobacco and cannabis in apartments.

Before voting for the proposal last week, the board changed the legislation against Yee’s wishes with an amendment from Supervisor Rafael Mandelman to exempt cannabis smoke from the ban. Mandelman sided with advocates who said The City shouldn’t take away the right to smoke cannabis in apartments since it is banned from being smoked in public, unlike tobacco.

The board’s vote change apparently took Yee by surprise. Just four days ago, he sent a newsletter via email to his constituents in which he praised the smoking ban as “a substantial step in the right direction to ensure that every single person and family — regardless of where they live or what their income is — has clean air to breathe in their own home.”

San Francisco would have become the largest city in the nation to adopt a smoking ban in multi-unit buildings, Yee said.

In a statement after the vote, Yee said he was “disappointed.”

“Today’s vote failed to prioritize the health of our most vulnerable community members,” Yee said. “It is completely backwards that we would defend the rights of people to smoke in their own homes over the rights of others to breathe safely.”


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