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Big bad lawyering

A little clarity on Measure B-17 and why it's a bad deal

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Once again lawsuit-loving lawyer Stew Jenkins, along with his sidekick, Kevin P. Rice, are using fear, innuendo, and outright lies to distract voters from the real truth about Measure B-17: It is a disaster for San Luis Obispo because it is totally unclear what the legal ramifications would be. Mr. Jenkins' statements in the July 27 New Times opinion piece "Equal Dignity" were cleverly calculated to mislead voters and scare them into making a decision that is opposed by every responsible person having anything to do with improving the rental and housing situation in our city.

Mr. Rice admitted in the open public hearings held this past spring that the measure, as written by the proponents, had major flaws and was legally unclear. Proponents have never offered any actual legally supported argument that counteracts that conclusion. Mr. Rice pressured the council via open testimony, emails, and a radio show to fix the language—but he'd already turned in the ballots so it was too late to fix their own mess.

Here's the reality behind the statements made by Mr. Jenkins in his opinion piece:

False Jenkins talking point No. 1: He says that the council is essentially going to enact a new version of the Rental Housing Inspection Program (RHIP) this fall. This is utter nonsense.

First, another RHIP-type law would simply be political suicide—we've already seen what happened in the mayor's race last fall with the defeat of incumbent Mayor Jan Marx, largely because of her stand on the RHIP.

The RHIP had mandatory inside-the-house inspections—that's what people hated and that is gone forever. The people have asked for help in educating landlords about safe and healthy rental requirements and for help in educating renters on how to fight slum living conditions, and I for one have zero interest in bringing anything forward ever again that is not supported by a large majority of the SLO voters. The other four council members were always 100 percent against the RHIP anyway—why would they want to bring something like it back?

And what happens if any council actually does something that people really don't like? Try this: Use the democratic process to vote them out of office or pressure them into changing their minds! That just happened—the people spoke, the council listened, and they repealed the RHIP. That process is much cheaper than trying to legislate by $160,000 elections (thanks, Stew and Kevin!) every single thing you might imagine a council could do that you don't like.

False Jenkins talking point No. 2: Jenkins says that Measure B-17 only outlaws discrimination against people "based on age, income, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, or inability or ability to own a home," as though the courts actually outlaw "bad" discrimination against people but not "good" discrimination "in favor" of people. I'm not calling these statements outright lies, but I am saying this part of his argument is shockingly, obviously untrue, and as a lawyer he knows better.

If Jenkins really believed his own argument here and had legal proof from court cases that he was right—why didn't he bring the proof to the council last spring? Why didn't he provide legal cases to the city attorney? Why hasn't he ever shown anyone any legal proof of what he's saying? He isn't doing that because he can't. He knows perfectly well that courts have struck down laws as "discrimination" even when those laws have helped those people. "Lordy!" indeed, to quote Mr. Jenkins.

False Jenkins talking point No. 3: "If the city doesn't discriminate it won't get sued." If Mr. Jenkins were a straightforward man and a candid lawyer, then he would be ashamed of the simplistic words he's written, since he knows that the city gets sued all the time for no good reason whatsoever, and in fact it's possible he's been one of the lawyers doing it. He knows that even if the city gets sued and wins, it's the taxpayers and the residents that ultimately lose, because of the huge amounts of money and time it takes to defend even frivolous cases.

Mr. Jenkins should either show us the court cases that support his statements about the law or he should admit the obvious reason for his measure: he and Kevin Rice didn't trust the new council to actually do what they said they were going to do when the new majority pledged to repeal the RHIP.

So we get Measure B-17, an ordinance that will absolutely crush any decent city housing projects and policies and cost the city taxpayers millions, all intended to force the council to do what it has already done: Listen to the voices of the people and repeal the RHIP.

Vote no on Measure B-17. There's a much better, much simpler, much cheaper way to address rental housing concerns than this disastrous ballot measure. It's called talking to your City Council. Δ

Carlyn Christianson is a member of the SLO City Council writing on behalf of herself. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a response letter to the editor and send it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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