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Equal dignity

The intended consequence of Measure B-17

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Does anyone remember a time when more than three times the number of voters needed signed up to put an initiative on a city ballot?

This week San Luis Obispo city residents are getting mail-in ballots. A "yes" vote will permanently repeal the invasive and discriminatory rental housing inspection ordinance adopted by an out-of-touch City Council. A yes vote will, for the first time in city history, forbid discrimination in city housing policies, practices, and ordinances based on "age, income, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, or inability or ability to own a home."

City Council members, folks working in nonprofits that are funded by city grants, and institutional city management have generated a slick whisper campaign urging a "no" vote against the initiative. Their "talking points" are 1. the "Rental Housing Inspection" ordinance is dead and gone, 2. the initiative's two sentence non-discrimination in housing ordinance will destroy affordable housing and mobile home rent control, and 3. adopting the non-discrimination in housing ordinance will get the city sued.

Each talking point is false.

I'm Stew Jenkins, one of the three proponents and authors of Measure B-17. I am one of the 9,200 citizens who signed the petition. I am a homeowner, not a landlord. Proponent Dan Knight is a tenant, and proponent Dan Carpenter is a homeowner who owns no residential rentals. Tenants donated the great majority of funds needed to qualify the initiative so citizens can take control over housing policy.

Out of a deep respect for voters, we want you to know the truth about what Measure B-17 does. We want you to know what it does not do.

False city talking point No. 1: The rental inspection ordinance is dead and gone.

San Luis Obispo adopted the initiative process in 1910, before the state of California did so. This direct-democracy tool gives voters control. If voters repeal a law, it will stay repealed.

After thousands of signatures were turned in to qualify Measure B-17, the City Council cynically tried to sidestep the public with a quick repeal of the rental inspection ordinance. Why? Because if the City Council does the repeal—and not the voters—the council members have the option of readopting the rental inspection ordinance.

Institutional city management has already discussed and scheduled with the City Council an effort to bring back substantial portions of the rental inspection housing ordinance just two months after our ballots get counted. Larger fees and fines will be levied, all passed on to tenants in ever-increasing rents. Instead of five or six tenants cramming themselves into one house to afford the rent, expect eight to 10 having to do so if the City Council is left free to adopt rental inspection program 2.0.

False city talking point No. 2: Affordable housing and mobile home park rent control will end if the city cannot discriminate in favor of poor people, seniors, and mobile home owners.

Reading the initiative's non-discrimination in housing ordinance reveals the fiction in this talking point. Discrimination against people "based on age, income, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, or inability or ability to own a home" is outlawed by your yes vote. Assisting creation of affordable housing is not outlawed. In fact, the wording was carefully drafted to protect folks in mobile home parks. Limits on "space rent" increases are not outlawed. By omitting "developers" from the initiative's wording, existing ordinances requiring "developers" to set aside affordable units for rent or purchase are preserved. The initiative nowhere prohibits a homeowner from adding a secondary (granny) unit, or renting out part of their home.

Truth is, by voting yes, you will prevent skyrocketing rents on existing houses, which will lower the prices landlords can charge in new developments. It was the rental inspection ordinance's yearly registration fees, repetitive inspection fees, and nonsense fines being passed on to tenants that fueled increasing rents.

False city talking point No. 3: Adopting the non-discrimination in housing ordinance will lead to the city being sued for discrimination.

Lordy! If city officials don't discriminate, the city won't suffer liability. If city officials don't adopt ordinances requiring residents to submit their bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens to warrantless searches, without probable cause, the city won't suffer liability.

Voters don't want public officials raising revenue through unconstitutional invasions of privacy. Voters don't want public officials raising revenue by targeting vulnerable classes of people whose homes will be inspected or searched without probable cause.

Mail in your yes vote today on Measure B-17. Put a permanent spike in the heart of the invasive rental inspection ordinance that drives up the price of rents.

Mail in your yes vote today to permanently mandate that:

"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."

Vote yes so San Luis Obispo officials stop feeling privileged to strip residents of equal dignity. Δ

Stew Jenkins grew up here. For 38 years he's practiced law in San Luis Obispo. He is a liberal Democrat nominated by his party in 2004 for state Assembly. He may be reached at info@stewjenkins.com, or send a letter to the editor at letters@newtimesslo.com.

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