A ballot initiative to repeal and replace San Luis Obispo’s rental housing inspection program is headed for a special election. The City Council unanimously decided against adopting the initiative outright on April 18.
It’s not the “repeal” that’s the issue: The City Council voted on its own last month to repeal the rental inspection program. It’s what the initiative aimed to replace it with—a “Non-Discrimination in Housing” ordinance—that councilmembers said they were uncomfortable passing based on a report by City Attorney Christine Dietrick.
The initiative’s non-discrimination ordinance states that the city “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 a “compulsory program, policy, intrusion, or inspection” applicable to “any residential dwelling unit.”
Dietrick’s report raised concerns about how that language could conflict with existing city policies like the inclusionary housing program, which requires developers to build affordable units into housing projects or pay in-lieu fees that contribute to affordable housing projects. Other policies deemed at risk were a mobile home park rent control ordinance, homestay regulations, and a secondary dwelling unit ordinance.
“The city’s ability to continue to conduct important housing programs could be subject to legal challenge,” the report states.
Stew Jenkins, a local attorney and one of the initiative’s proponents, discarded Dietrick’s report as “generated to create doubt and fear,” saying that the inclusionary housing program “will not be impacted” as a result of adopting the ordinance. The initiative’s other backers are attorney Dan Knight and former City Councilmember Dan Carpenter.
“It’s been a real privilege to be a proponent of this,” Jenkins said at the council meeting. “This is an opportunity for you. … Apologize now for the prior council’s violation of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments of residents, renters, and owners.”
Because the initiative garnered some 5,400 signatures (more than 15 percent of the city’s registered voters), under election law, the council’s only two options were to adopt the initiative untouched, or to call a special election. That election is estimated to cost the city about $150,000.
All five councilmembers said they weren’t willing to expose the city’s existing policies to legal challenges by adopting the initiative.
“There’s no way I’m willing to gamble on our inclusionary housing. To put that at risk—I can’t do it,” Councilmember Aaron Gomez said.
“It leaves us with really no choice but to move this to a ballot,” Mayor Heidi Harmon added.
Council members also said they didn’t believe residents who signed the petition really understood the replacement clause, but rather they just wanted a repeal of the rental housing inspection program.
“I do think thousands of community members wanted us to make this change,” Councilmember Dan Rivoire said. “What I don’t think the community wanted us to do was expose the city to undue risk. … It does seem the risks are grave and absolutely is not what the people signing that petition intended.”
City officials indicated that the all-mail special election will be held either in late July or August 2017.