By Camas Frank
A reminder, registered voters in the City of SLO who intend to cast a vote in one of the most bizarre and, evidentially, confusing municipal special elections in recent memory had better do so soon.
The ballots for Measure B-17 were sent out last month and must be postmarked by Aug. 22 for return to the San Luis Obispo County Recorder, although, as with normal on-season elections, voters can swing by with theirs to the County Government Center at 1055 Monterey St any time between now and the deadline.
Even residents that would normally steer well clear of active politics have taken to neighborhood Facebook groups and other social media in the last month to share the requests of their civic leaders – both elected brepresentatives and from groups like the SLO Chamber of Commerce – to vote No on B-17.
That’s in part, say opponents of the “Nondiscrimination in Housing” measure because the language was crafted by petition proponents, Stewart Jenkins, Dan Knight and Dan Carpenter, to be deliberately misleading, adding additional language to the Federal and State laws that already dictate city policy.
The debate has brought together interesting allies, not only all five members of the SLO City Council, but also Mayor Heidi Harmon and the woman she took over from in a surprise victory in the last election.
Former SLO Mayor Jan Marx wrote an open letter to her friends and neighbors expanding on the new Council’s ballot argument against the measure, “this so called ‘non-discrimination’ clause would prohibit ‘discrimination’ IN FAVOR [sic] of people like ‘low income’ people needing affordable or workforce housing,” Marx wrote. “This fair sounding language would actually be ‘poison pill’ to destroy the City’s existing affordable housing programs and prevent new ones from being implemented in the future….So, local organizations like Habitat for Humanity, People’s Self-Help Housing and HASLO couldn’t get city funding or even official city policy support, which they depend on to leverage and obtain grants and loans to build their affordable housing.”
That’s to say nothing of the other oddity surrounding the measure.
When 7,112 petition signatures were submitted to qualify the initiative for a vote – many collected by paid signature gatherers at Cal Poly and at events in SLO’s Downtown – the registered voters who signed were largely voicing their disapproval of an unpopular Rental Inspection Ordinance passed by the last City Council. That ordinance established a program that opponents like Jenkins and Carpenter found to be highly intrusive and even, Jenkins warned at the time, constitutionally untenable.
That ordinance was repealed by the Council after receipt of the petition however, which has now caused an even more bizarre addendum to the already fraught tale.
In an email exchange made public after a request by SLO County’s weekly paper the New Times, County Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham took SLO City’s Attorney Christine Dietrick to task over the manner in which the repeal changed the nature of the question being decided in the election.
“Suppose I was a San Luis Obispo voter who wanted to retain the Rental Housing Inspection Ordinance by voting ’No’ to the ‘repeal and replace’ question that qualified for the ballot,’ Cunningham wrote, “Since the city took action to themselves repeal that ordinance, my vote would no longer count on that issue no matter how I vote on August 22nd.”
He also added, in an email chain made public that touched on the issue of whether or not the exchange between the City and County should be, “This back and forth, if aired publicly, will erode public confidence in both our departments.”
Indeed, Dietrick replied after comments more on point as to the legalities involved, “That’s the nature of representative democracy.”
Ironically for an special election triggered by concerns of an inspection program seen as a “money grab,” the election itself is set to cost the tax and fee payers of theCity $160,000.