Special election on SLO rental inspections still looms
March 13, 2017
Though the San Luis Obispo City Council is currently in the process of repealing the city’s controversial rental inspection ordinance, it appears the council must soon choose between adopting an alternative ordinance pushed by opponents of the inspection program and calling a special election on the matter.
In May 2015, the previous city council voted 3-2 to adopt an ordinance that allows an inspector to enter and examine rental units to determine if the properties are safe and habitable. The ordinance also requires landlords to pay a fee to fund the program.
Many city residents have opposed the program, arguing it constitutes government intrusion and a tax on rentals. Since its passage, renters have been removed from homes during repairs, and some property owners have been forced to pay the city’s high permit fees.
Supporters of the program, which included city management staff, argued there were deteriorating neighborhoods in the city where landlords do little to maintain their properties.
In recent months, former councilman Dan Carpenter, attorney Stew Jenkins and Dan Knight led a petition drive to overturn the ordinance. About a third of the city’s registered voters signed a petition to eliminate the controversial inspection program by way of a ballot measure. If passed, the ballot initiative would replace the rental inspection ordinance with a non-discrimination housing ordinance.
Faced with a looming special election, the San Luis Obispo council voted unanimously last week to repeal the rental inspection ordinance. If the council votes again to scrap the ordinance at its upcoming meeting, the rental inspection program will be formally repealed.
However, that alone will not put an end to the initiative process. In order to stop a special election from occurring, the council must also adopt a non-discrimination housing ordinance.
On Friday, a random sampling required by elections code showed the petition to repeal and replace the rental inspection ordinance contains 200 percent of the valid signatures needed to place the initiative on a ballot, according to a press release issued by Jenkins. The sampling also indicated the petition contains 138 percent of the valid signatures that would mandate a special election, Jenkins said.
In accordance with elections code, since the petition contains such a high percentage of valid signatures, the city clerk can immediately certify it, Jenkins said. Doing so would require the council to consider the initiative at its next meeting.
On Monday, backers of the initiative urged the city clerk to certify the measure for adoption at the March 21 council meeting.
If the clerk does certify the petition, the council would then be faced with the choice of adopting the measure as written or setting a special election within 108 days, Jenkins said. The council could also exercise an option to study the impact of its choice and delay its decision for no more than 30 days.