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In a second vote, San Francisco supervisors Tuesday made the unusual move to send back proposed legislation that would ban tobacco smoking multi-unit housing buildings. Last week, supervisors voted 10-1 in the first reading of the legislation, with Supervisor Dean Preston in dissent.

In the second vote, supervisors voted 6-5 in favor of sending the proposal back to the board’s committee so the legislation can be refined and the public can weigh in. Supervisors Catherine Stefani, Ahsha Safai, Sandra Lee Fewer, Rafael Mandelman and board President Norman Yee voted in dissent.

Preston attempted during last week’s board meeting to send the proposal back to committee, citing housing advocate concerns about the impact long-term tenants, especially associated with the fine for violations. That motion failed 6-5.

Under Yee’s proposal, violators could face a fine of up to $1,000 that would be administered by the Department of Public Health. The proposal would require the department to conduct a public outreach and, if it had passed as is, tenants could not be evicted for violations.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who last week voted against sending the proposal back to committee and gave his approval in the first reading, reversed course on the second time around.

He said he considered concerns he’d heard from elderly and longtime tenants regarding the fines.

Peskin said:

“I really am fearful that the unintended impacts could cause more harm to long-term tenants in my district and other districts.”

Peskin said he is looking to fix, not scrap, the legislation in committee, adding:

“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.”

Fewer said she wants to move the proposal forward and asked supervisors to make changes for tenant protections at a later time. She said secondhand smoke is an issue in her district and has heard complaints from tenants about the smoke wafting through hallways in apartment buildings.

The proposal sparked concerns from the cannabis industry and San Francisco’s Oversight Cannabis Committee. Critics said the state passed Proposition 64, which allows for legal recreational cannabis use, though users are more limited as to where they can smoke compared to people who can smoke tobacco products.

Supervisors passed an amendment last week introduced by Mandelman that exempts cannabis smoking from the intended ban. Originally, the proposal only gave an exemption to tenants who smoke cannabis for medical reasons.

Yee said in a statement he that was disappointed the proposal was sent back to committee, adding:

“Today’s vote failed to prioritize the health of our most vulnerable community members. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, which causes cancer, lung disease, and harms brain and heart functions.”

San Francisco would have joined 63 other cities across the state — including Alameda, Berkeley and Santa Clara — in banning tobacco smoke inside multi-unit buildings.

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.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to jerold@sfbay.ca.

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