OPINION by STEW JENKINS
On July 26, the New Times reported that the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney had determined that the City Council “unlawfully altered the initiative,” Measure B-17, in violation of Elections Code sections 9210 and 9214.
Many who want a permanent repeal are asking – “If I want to permanently repeal the invasive rental home inspection ordinance, do I vote “Yes” or “No?”
The answer is that you vote “Yes” on Measure B-17.
The changes the city made ended up in the “title and summary” appearing in the voter information guide in a way designed to confuse voters. No alteration was made to any part of the “FULL TEXT OF MEASURE B-17,” which still provides a permanent repeal of the warrantless inspection ordinance, and replaces it with a non-discrimination in housing ordinance. The Measure’s text is at the end of this article.
City management and the council had set out to confuse voters through pretense and Orwellian double-speak. Since 1910 the law has required that a city council presented with a citizens’ petition to either (1) adopt the people’s proposal without change, or (2) put it up for a vote without change. To prevent a hostile city council from manipulating the people’s will, those are still the only two choices the elections code section 9210 allows.
In order to confuse, the San Luis Obispo City Council tried something that has never been attempted anywhere Instead of adopting the initiative without change, they adopted the first half of the initiative (a repeal of the rental inspection ordinance) but then set the entire proposition (both a binding repeal and a non-discrimination in housing ordinance) on the ballot for a vote.
Crucially, a mere repeal by the council is not permanent.
The SLO City Council went further too unlawfully alter the ballot title and summary that would appear in your voter guide (in violation of section 9210 and several other sections). They added statements implying that the council had already repealed the rental inspection ordinance, suggesting that no voter repeal was needed, all to make the false argument that the invasive inspections of homes were “dead and gone.”
None of these unlawful additions informed voters that if measure B-17 doesn’t pass, the city council could bring back the unconstitutional searches of private homes the following week.
While the SLO County District Attorney decided that the city council wouldn’t be prosecuted because they didn’t knowingly violate the law when they voted to make those changes, he did say that “a civil action may” be the appropriate “remedy.” Ironic, when city officials argue this initiative’s two easily understood sentences guaranteeing equal dignity could put the city at risk of being sued.
Just like when the city adopted its unconstitutional, invasive, inspection program in the first place, these unprecedented actions of the city constituted a massive invasion of residents’ power over their own city.
What motive compelled desperate moves? Simple, management wanted to bring back the ordinance under another name, in a different chapter, without having to get voter approval.
But, if the people adopt B-17 by voting yes, city managers will have to ask voters, to approve any new effort to enact a law mandating a knock on your door to insist on inspecting your bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, or garage. City management doesn’t want that kind of voter oversight. They bridle at simple procedures provided in state law for city management with probable cause (a neighbor’s complaint and/or observable conditions) providing an affidavit to a judge to obtain an inspection warrant.
The real reasons city management pushed the rental housing inspection program was because they projected it would generate half-a-million-dollars in annual revenue through registration fees, inspection fees and business license taxes levied on landlords. Revenue for hiring more city employees, at the expense of tenants’ increased rents.
If you don’t believe this, just listen to community development director Michael Condron and Councilman Dan Rivoire comments during the Feb. 16 and March 7 meetings.
Reinstating substantial parts of the Rental Inspection Ordinance such as registration fees, rental licenses, coupled with issuing minimum $500 fines is clearly their goal to generate new “revenue” on the bowed backs of tenants. They can only do so if they can stop voters from adopting B-17.
Tenants don’t feel protected. They feel violated and frightened about how high their rents could go. Or worse, frightened that their residence could be red-tagged and they’d be out on the street.
B-17 protects privacy and restricts rent increases. Mobile home rent control is untouched. Affordable housing is enhanced. Every resident is guaranteed equal dignity in housing laws.
Unite with the 9,000 residents who signed the petition to bring democracy to San Luis Obispo’s housing policy. Mail in your Yes vote on Measure B-17 today.
THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY OF SAN LUIS OBISPO DO ORDAIN AS FOLLOWS:
SECTION 1. This ordinance shall be known as the Non-Discrimination in Housing Ordinance.”
SECTION 2. Chapter 15.10, “Rental Housing Inspection”, of the San Luis Obispo
Municipal Code is hereby repealed and new Chapter 15.10 is adopted to read as follows:
CHAPTER 15.10. NON-DISCRIMINATION IN HOUSING
SECTION 15.10.010 The City of San Luis Obispo shall not discriminate against any person based upon age, income, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, or inability or ability to own a home, by imposing any compulsory program, policy, intrusion or inspection applicable to any residential dwelling unit. No determination to conduct an inspection of any dwelling shall be based substantially on any occupant’s age, income, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity or status as an owner or renter of such dwelling.
Stew Jenkins is a San Luis Obispo attorney who handles municipal law, estate planning and family law. In 2012, he successfully obtained an injunction against the City of San Luis Obispo to stop it criminalizing poor people as a means of driving them out of town. Jenkins is a San Luis Obispo County Liberal Democrat who supports the rights of working people to organize unions, growing the local economy through project labor agreements, the right of all people to health care and equal dignity. He is one of the proponents of Initiative Measure B-17.