San Luis Obispo voters appear to have rejected a controversial vote-by-mail special election on a new housing policy that the City Council said would have jeopardized affordable housing programs.
The special election on the citizen-led Measure B-17 “nondiscrimination in housing” proposal ended Tuesday with nearly 71 percent voting against the initiative. As of 8:01 p.m. Tuesday, the latest tally, about 7,166 of 28,317 registered voters — roughly 25 percent — cast their ballots.
Clerk-recorder Tommy Gong said that the final votes from ballots sent Tuesday will be counted within the next day or two. And voters have until Wednesday to add their signatures to any unsigned ballot envelopes they mailed, as required by law.
But the defeat of the measure is all but certain given the wide margin.
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The City Council authorized $160,000 to cover the costs for the special election. Gong said that the Clerk-Recorder’s Office hasn’t yet tallied the final bill for its work, which is still ongoing.
The citizen-initiated measure, first circulated by attorneys Dan Knight and Stew Jenkins, along with former city councilman Dan Carpenter, was in response to the city’s unpopular Rental Housing Inspection Program, adopted in 2015. Kevin P. Rice, a Los Angeles-area fireman and renter in the city who has been a thorn in the city’s side, also supported it.
But in April, the City Council repealed the program, which required mandatory health and safety inspections of rental housing. To address substandard rental housing conditions, the council is working to encourage citizens to file complaints of code violations by improving community awareness of tenant rights and increasing fines against landlords who are repeat offenders.
“I never understood why they filed the petition,” said Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson. “Once the election happened in November, you had four council members saying openly and repeatedly they didn’t want to keep (Rental Housing Inspection Program) as it was.”
Christianson said the council listened to constituents.
If adopted, the proposed replacement law would have prohibited any kind of city housing policy that discriminates against people on the basis of factors such as age, gender, sexual identity, disability, income and inability or ability to own a home.
The backers of the initiative said it would have permanently prevented any City Council from re-instating a rental housing inspection program without voter approval.
But the City Council lobbied against it, saying the new policy would create legal loopholes that could undermine housing programs designed to help poor people, students and seniors. They believed someone could sue the city, claiming programs designed to help poor people and seniors, such as inclusionary housing and mobile home rent control programs, are discriminatory based on income levels.
Despite the defeat, Rice took credit for the repeal on Tuesday night, saying the petition, filed with the city in February, forced the council to repeal the law in April.
Rice also said Mayor Heidi Harmon, who supported repeal, should have called a special meeting as soon as she was seated in December to take the program off the books. A community forum was called in February, leading to repeal.
“Heidi didn’t take the reins,” Rice said. “If she had, this petition might not have been filed.”
But City Attorney Christine Dietrick said she “wholeheartedly disagrees,” saying the new council needed to weigh the options and implications of repeal.
“It’s unrealistic to think they’d immediately call a meeting upon hitting the dais,” Dietrick said. “I think they moved pretty quickly on making an informed, thoughtful decision.”