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Future of SLO housing policy up for vote in special mail-in ballot measure

San Luis Obispo Median house prices Garibaldi Ave.
San Luis Obispo Median house prices Garibaldi Ave. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Over the next few weeks, San Luis Obispo voters will decide whether to adopt a ballot measure that supporters say would end discrimination in city housing policies but the City Council warns could “kill off all the city’s housing programs” and harm elderly and low-income residents.

Special election ballots were mailed out Monday on the proposed “nondiscrimination in housing” ordinance circulated by attorneys Stew Jenkins, Dan Knight and former councilman Dan Carpenter. Residents must cast their vote by mail by Aug. 22.

A “yes” or “no” vote of more than 50 percent will determine the initiative’s fate.

“The ordinance would dismantle any hope of affordable housing programs in SLO,” all five council members wrote in their argument against the measure. “This may not have been the intent, but it will most certainly be the result.”

Moreover, they wrote, “If you think San Luis Obispo is expensive now, wait until these programs are taken away. Don’t risk letting this happen.”

The ordinance would dismantle any hope of affordable housing programs in SLO. This may not have been the intent, but it will most certainly be the result.

San Luis Obispo City Council

Supporters contend the policy would permanently block the return of the city’s unpopular rental housing inspection program, unless voters approve. In March, the City Council repealed the mandatory rental housing inspection program adopted in May 2015. But advocates of the ordinance believe a future council could restore it.

Supporters also contend the proposed law would prevent discrimination against all city residents regarding any mandatory housing policy on the basis of age, income, race, gender, sexual identity, owner or renter status, and other categories.

“Your Yes vote assures that every person in San Luis Obispo is treated with equal dignity, regardless of status,” according to a ballot argument in favor of the new law. “. ...The city’s desire to raise revenue never justifies unconstitutional ordinances.”

Your Yes vote assures that every person in San Luis Obispo is treated with equal dignity, regardless of status. ...The city’s desire to raise revenue never justifies unconstitutional ordinances.

Ordinance supporters

But council members say the proposed law would be “harmful to every affordable housing program in our city.”

“The label of ‘non-discrimination’ is compelling, and sounds easy to support,” the council wrote. “But it is a trap, because it includes legally unrecognized and legally unclear categories like ‘income,’ ‘owner or renter,’ and ‘ability to own a home.’ These create legal loopholes.”

While affordable housing programs are designed to help lower income residents, seniors, veterans, students and others, the council fears they could be challenged as discriminatory under the initiative, which puts the city at risk of being sued. And that in turn would cost taxpayers money in litigation costs — and potentially eliminate existing housing programs that benefit groups such as the low-income and elderly.

State and federal law already establishes anti-discrimination housing protections, according to City Attorney Christine Dietrick.

The ballot initiative will cost the city up to $160,000.

Where to send your ballot: Ballots must be postmarked by Aug. 22 and mailed to San Luis Obispo County Recorder, Registrar of Voters, P.O. Box 8102, San Luis Obispo, CA 93403-8102. Ballots can be dropped off, from now through Aug. 22, at the county government office at 1055 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. Other city drop-off locations for Aug. 22 only are posted on the mailed ballots.

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