SLO council decides on ‘simple’ special election with just one housing measure

San Luis Obispo City Council members listen during Tuesday’s meeting.
San Luis Obispo City Council members listen during Tuesday’s meeting. nwilson@thetribunenews.com

This summer, San Luis Obispo voters will face a single ballot measure proposing a “nondiscrimination in housing” policy after the City Council decided Tuesday not to put a second measure on the ballot that would compete with the citizens’ initiative.

Voters may either support the citizens’ initiative — which calls for protections against any unfair treatment in city housing policy — or they may reject the measure, which the council opposes out of concern that it could endanger affordable housing programs and mobile home rent controls for low-income and senior residents.

The special election must be held sometime before Aug. 29 and will be conducted through the mail at a cost of $119,000 to $158,000 to the city. The council will set the date of the election when it meets May 16.

The ballot measure was written by attorneys Stew Jenkins and Dan Knight and former Councilman Dan Carpenter and filed as a petition with 7,000 signatures in February. It seeks to repeal the city’s unpopular Rental Housing Inspection Program (which the council repealed in March) and institute a “nondiscrimination in housing” policy that would prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, income, sexual identity, ownership or renter status by “imposing any compulsory program, policy, intrusion applicable to any residential dwelling unit.”

The council considered offering voters an alternative measure that would have required voter approval before any future council could revive a rental inspection program, while excluding any policy language regarding “nondiscrimination.”

The most important thing for special elections is to make things as simple and clear as possible for the voters.

Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson

With two competing measures on the ballot, the one with more votes of approval would prevail.

A majority of the council — Mayor Heidi Harmon, Councilman Dan Rivoire and Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson — said Tuesday that they opposed an alternative measure, at least in part because the choice could confuse voters.

“The most important thing for special elections is to make things as simple and clear as possible for the voters,” Christianson said. “A competing ordinance wouldn’t add to the simplicity, but rather to the costs and confusion.”

Council members Aaron Gomez and Andy Pease said they supported the alternative measure as a compromise and as a way to avoid the work and resources involved to campaign against the citizen’s ballot measure.

“I am in support of an alternative measure,” Pease said. “I think that (the proposed alternative measure) was the goal of the folks who were signing the petition.”

The council had the option of either adopting the citizen’s ballot measure after it was filed in February or putting the issue in front of voters. The council unanimously chose the public vote and then try to make the case that approving the measure could put the city at legal risk — a position proponents of the measure reject.

I’m concerned about the cost of a special election, and the campaign may take a ton of work and a lot of money.

Councilwoman Andy Pease

Christianson said Tuesday that she wants to make sure “this horrible ordinance doesn’t pass and our housing programs aren’t decimated.”

City Attorney Christine Dietrick noted that state and federal laws already contain numerous protections against housing-related discrimination, though the proponents argue that the local protections could expand beyond those laws.

Leslie Halls, president of the San Luis Obispo Property and Business Owners Association, said she doesn’t believe the council’s concerns about the ballot measure are valid.

“It’s clear people didn’t warrant mandatory and unwarranted inspections,” Halls told the council. “Instead of holding a special election, the council should just adopt this and the problem will go away in a week or two.”