Bowing to strong public pressure, the San Luis Obispo City Council heavily modified and then postponed consideration of a controversial historical home ordinance.
The council had stripped many of the controversial parts out of the document in the sparsely attended late hours of the Oct. 5 council meeting, but the complex ordinance still provoked public ire.
The original ordinance language contained heavy fines for owners of historical houses deemed not up to city standards—an initial $10,000 fine and up to $5,000 a day after that. These huge fines are part of what city staffers say is a necessary effort to protect the city’s 175 designated historic properties and more than 500 older—but not quite as historic—houses from “demolition by neglect.” The early ordinance language also made misdemeanors out of some housing issues. The council excised these sections from the ordinance.
Still, council members struggled with the ordinance. They clearly wanted to approve strict rules protecting historical housing, but the original language had created a firestorm of protest. For whatever reason, the ordinance had inspired real fear among many homeowners. One letter to the mayor expressed the concerns of many: “I can hardly believe that our beloved city would do this to the mostly old people who live here. … We all try to do our best to keep up our properties, but huge fines would certainly preclude our doing anything. It all seems so draconian to me. When one is a longtime widow on a fixed income, it is always daunting to keep up with repairs. … Surely there must be a kinder, gentler way to protect our heritage without sacrificing senior citizens for senior properties.”
Some council members wanted the ordinance to keep to its scheduled late October vote for approval, but Mayor Dave Romero chimed in, saying it would probably be wise to delay a final decision on such a complex and controversial ordinance until the next council is seated in December.