OAKLEY -- The city presented a proposed no-smoking ordinance Tuesday that, although it would affect most Oakley apartment buildings, is aimed at one high-rise complex in particular.
Tenants' repeated complaints about secondhand smoke at The Commons at Oak Grove on Carol Lane prompted the city attorney to draft an ordinance that attempts to protect them from the carcinogen while still accommodating their neighbors who light up.
As it currently reads, the ordinance targets complexes with at least 10 units and requires apartment managers to designate most units as nonsmoking as well as separate them from those that aren't. Landlords could declare the entire site off-limits to smokers, however.
Individually owned properties in multiunit complexes, such as condominiums and town houses, wouldn't necessarily be subject to the ordinance; residents of those complexes would decide whether they want to follow the city's rules, adopt their own or have none at all.
The proposed ordinance places the primary responsibility for enforcement on apartment managers -- not the city.
"We really don't have the capacity to do the enforcement ourselves -- we don't have the staff for that," said special counsel Bill Galstan.
It's only logical that those overseeing the day-to-day operations of an apartment complex should handle complaints, he said, noting that if somebody starts puffing away in a restaurant or airplane it's the restaurant manager or flight attendant who's summoned, not the police or a federal air marshal.
But what the city's considering doesn't sit well with Theresa Karr, executive director of the California Apartment Association's Contra Costa-Napa-Solano division.
"You don't want an ordinance out there that's just not going to work," she said after the meeting.
Certainly, apartment managers can alert tenants of the new ordinance, post no-smoking signs and change rental agreements to include a no-smoking addendum, Karr said, but she objects to the city requiring them to carry out its mandate.
The draft ordinance also stipulates that the city might take uncooperative landlords to court.
"What they're saying is we're going to sue you if you don't stop (tenants from) smoking," Karr said.
Apartment managers already have a multitude of duties and don't have time to police smokers on the city's behalf, she added.
Oakley would do better to follow Richmond's example and set up a hotline that renters can call to report scofflaws, Karr said.
But Galstan said the intention isn't to have landlords conduct a witch hunt for smokers; rather, he said, they should document complaints until they have sufficient evidence to support an eviction.
"It's not like I expect them to be the smoking police and go on patrols and look for people smoking in the hallways," he said.
Karr also takes issue with the proposed 90-day deadline by which apartment managers must present the city with a map showing where the clusters of smoking and nonsmoking units will be.
She argues that it not only doesn't give them enough time to identify who's a smoker but raises a host of other logistical questions if the new designations require tenants to move.
Galstan said that's one of the reasons he already has sent the draft ordinance to apartment managers throughout the city so they can weigh in on the specifics.
The city's asking for a response by Nov. 15, and Galstan plans to present his revised proposal either at the council's December meeting or the first one in January.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her on Twitter.com/rowenacoetsee.