On an absurdity scale of 1-to-10, San Luis Obispo’s Measure B—which seeks to repeal a rental inspection ordinance that’s already dead—is at least an 11.
Not only is this citizens’ initiative unnecessary, it’s also dangerous. Under the guise of being all about “non-discrimination in housing” the measure includes “protections” that could jeopardize the city’s affordable housing programs benefiting low-income families, veterans and seniors.
It also wastes as much as $160,000 in taxpayer money on a special, vote-by-mail election.
It deserves to go down in flames—especially since its sponsors are now accusing the city of wrongdoing because it changed the wording of the measure from “repeal and replace” to simply “replace.” (Perhaps it should have been called re-repeal and replace?)
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Again, the hated rental inspection ordinance HAS ALREADY BEEN KILLED. The council voted 5-0 to do so, on April 20, 2017.
But that’s not good enough for the conspiracy theorists—who include attorney Stew Jenkins and former SLO Mayor Allen K. Settle—supporting this redundant “repeal” effort.
Backers of the initiative want rental inspections placed in an “enduring repeal-lock-box”— picture one of those treasure chests that’s bound in chains and dropped in the middle of the sea...or maybe launched into space?
According to their ballot arguments, killing an ordinance once isn’t enough. They even quote from “The Princess Bride” to bolster their case:
“To paraphrase ‘Miracle Max’ from ‘The Princess Bride,’ the city council’s rental inspection ordinance is only MOSTLY dead. Barely secret is council’s desire to breathe new life into the ordinance’s registration and license fees, with hugely increased fines for innocent things like replacing your water heater without a permit when you wake Saturday morning with no hot water.”
To borrow another line from “The Princess Bride,” has someone spent too much time scaling the Cliffs of Insanity?
While it’s not inconceivable that this council or a future one could attempt to resurrect mandatory rental inspections, it’s equally true that a future council could take any number of actions. It could outlaw wind chimes and bird feeders...order the gum stripped from Bubblegum Alley...ban dogs from Bishop Peak...revoke a permit for Thursday night Farmers Market...kill the ban on smoking on public sidewalks. It could even rip up Mission Plaza and reopen the area to traffic.
Should we pass ballot measures to ensure none of those things happens? Of course not.
Here’s the thing: The City Council is accountable to voters. Council members know their political careers will be ALL dead if they attempt to do something hugely unpopular—such as reviving the rental inspection ordinance.
But this effort to overkill the rental inspection program isn’t the worst part of this misbegotten ballot measure.
The initiative also includes language that bars discrimination based on “age, income, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, or inability or ability to buy a home.” The language would apply to “any compulsory program, policy, intrusion or inspection.”
Sounds laudable—until you consider the possible unintended consequences. City officials worry the ordinance could be used to attack affordable housing programs.
“If you think San Luis Obispo is expensive now, wait until these programs are taken away,” says the ballot argument signed by all five council members.
Supporters of the measure say that won’t happen, since programs such as mobile home rent stabilization and affordable housing don’t discriminate against anyone.
They overlook potential challenges based on reverse discrimination. If all buyers and renters are to be treated equally—regardless of income—frustrated house hunters could argue that affordable housing programs unlawfully give preferential treatment to particular income groups.
Such arguments may not hold up in court, but the city still could be forced to defend itself against costly lawsuits. Plus, legal entanglements could wind up derailing efforts to get residents into homes they can afford.
Given the housing crisis, we need to be increasing the supply of low- and moderate-cost housing, not jeopardizing it.
Keep in mind, too, that existing laws already prohibit discrimination in housing.
Under state law, for example, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of:
▪ Race, color
▪ Ancestry, national origin
▪ Disability, mental or physical
▪ Sex, gender
▪ Sexual orientation
▪ Gender identity, gender expression
▪ Genetic information
▪ Marital status
▪ Familial status
▪ Source of income
Measure B unnecessary. Speculation that the rental inspection ordinance could come back some day is just that—speculation.
The Tribune strongly urges all voters in San Luis Obispo to reject a measure that could wind up doing lots of harm and not one iota of good.