Opinion » Shredder

Whoopsy-daisy part deux

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I hate it when I'm wrong. I mean, obviously it rarely happens, because I'm a finely tuned machine, but when it does, I admit it. Guess what? I was wrong. Inconceivable!

Last week in "whoopsy-daisy" news, I wrote about the SLO County District Attorney's response to local conservative gadfly Kevin P. Rice's formal query about possible illegal action on the part of the city of SLO concerning alteration of the wording in the title of Measure B-17, which is meant to repeal and replace the controversial Rental Housing Inspection Program (RHIP) with the Non-Discrimination in Housing Ordinance.

Apparently the DA wasn't worried about the rewording. Instead, he was worried about the SLO City Council's past actions regarding the inspection program. You're right, I should have been able to read between the lines of legalese from the DA's Office.

I know this tastes like bland confusion soup, but keep slurping, it's important. The argument over the RHIP and this stupid ballot measure will never die, and here's why:

After gathering enough signatures—an effort led by former SLO Vice Mayor Dan Carpenter and local attorneys Stew Jenkins and Dan Knight—to put B-17 on a special mail-in ballot, the newly elected council majority repealed the inspection program on its own accord. That move, according to the legal thinking of Assistant DA Lee Cunningham, "unlawfully altered the initiative" by removing the voters' option to vote "no." Bad new City Council members!

Cunningham said that the petition enabled voters to vote on two options: "No" means we keep the unpopular and controversial RHIP. "Yes" means that it's repealed and replaced by the Non-Discrimination in Housing Ordinance, which is controversial because it asserts that nothing can be used to discriminate, which means—according to the city—programs aimed to help our housing problems will now be illegal because technically such programs "discriminate" in favor of low-income renters, the elderly, veterans, or the disabled. Lordy!

SLO City Attorney Christine Dietrick believes the D.A.'s Office misinterpreted the law: In an email to Cunningham, she wrote that the initiative "has nothing to do with the council's underlying legislative authority to adopt a program and then reverse itself."

In other words, even if voters vote "no" on B-17, the council still retains the power to repeal the inspection ordinance.

Jenkins, in his opinion piece last week ("Equal dignity," July 27), argued that voting "yes" on B-17 will "permanently repeal the invasive and discriminatory rental housing inspection ordinance." His thinking is that without a "yes" on B-17, the council will restart inspections later. Yeah, maybe, but considering public outcry—which included voting in City Council members who were against the RHIP program—and how difficult it was to enact inspections in the first place, it's highly unlikely.

Jenkins also argued that the Non-Discrimination in Housing Ordinance won't affect the city's low-income housing programs because the new ordinance says the city shall not discriminate "against" anyone. Um, Stewie, baby, you're a freaking lawyer! Your entire career is about twisting a word or two one way or another. You know your proposed ordinance opens the city to legal action. It's what lawyers do!

So what does this info mean? Does it really change anything? The short answer is "nope!" Either way you slice it, the RHIP is history, and neither a yay or nay vote will change that. If you vote "yes" to adopt B-17, the city may have to discontinue its low-income housing programs or be prepared to fight for them in court. If you vote "no" on B-17, such programs will continue to be legal. That's it. This rest of this is all a big distraction.

My biggest worry, however, is when Cunningham emailed Dietrick the following: "As for making this issue more public than it already is, you may recall that I did not make anything public. Mr. Rice gave a copy of my letter to the New Times, who then called me. This back and forth, if aired publicly, will erode public confidence in both our departments."

Really? Is Cunningham actually warning Dietrick to not air the spat between the city and the DA? As far as Dietrick is concerned, all this could have been avoided with a little common courtesy: "This is a complex issue, not easy to understand. That is why I simply would have appreciated the courtesy of being asked about it before you publicly released an inaccurate legal conclusion based on a misunderstanding of facts and law and set up an unfortunate and unnecessary public debate."

I understand that government is imperfect and makes mistakes, and I accept that. What really grinds my gears is when a government representative would rather bury mistakes and disagreements instead of being transparent and willing to address and fix problems.

I didn't get it right last week. I admit it. In my defense, this is confusing as hell, amirite? The bottom line is the public deserves to know that the DA didn't ask the city to respond to or weigh in on its interpretation of the law before handing Rice a smoking gun that said the city behaved illegally ... on the eve of a special election! Now Cunningham and the DA's office look like they're embarrassed and trying to cover up. Δ

The Shredder keeps an injury journal. Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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