SLO to hold special election as city battles to keep inspecting rentals

April 19, 2017

A stack of 1,560 pages of signed petitions.


Rather than adopting a non-discrimination in housing ordinance and staving off a special election, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to send the ongoing dispute over a rental inspection program to the voters. The move has raised questions as to whether the city, plagued by upcoming budget shortfalls, is going to undue lengths to raise revenue.

In 2015, the previous city council adopted a rental inspection ordinance that allowed an inspector to enter and examine rental units to determine if the properties were safe and habitable. The ordinance also required landlords to pay a fee to fund the program.

Last month, the council repealed the ordinance after about a third of registered voters in SLO signed a petition calling for it to be repealed and replaced it with a non-discrimination in housing ordinance. The proposed replacement ordinance states the city, “shall not discriminate against any person based upon age, income, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity or inability or ability to own a home, by imposing any compulsory program, policy, intrusion or inspection of any ethnicity, sexual identity or status as an owner or renter of such dwelling.”

The non-discrimination ordinance would help safeguard against the city council replacing the previous rental inspection ordinance with another discriminatory rental inspection program.

Acting on the advice of city staff, the council rejected the non-discrimination in housing ordinance at its meeting on Tuesday. A 26-page report drafted by City Attorney Christine Dietrick and Community Development Director Michael Codron argued the non-discrimination in housing ordinance would place the city in a legal bind that would compromise initiatives like affordable housing programs. City staff argued, if the council adopts the non-discrimination ordinance, individuals could sue the city claiming the affordable housing rules discriminate against mid and high-income residents.

Stew Jenkins

Prior to the meeting, attorney Stew Jenkins, one of the leaders of the petition driver, responded to the report with a letter to Mayor Heidi Harmon, stating city staff raised false concerns. By requiring developers to price certain properties for the working poor, the city’s rental inspection program does not discriminate against those otherwise able to afford a home, Jenkins wrote.

Still, during Tuesday’s meeting, council members echoed staff’s fears that the non-discrimination ordinance might prevent affordable housing or rent stabilization programs.

“Those are absolutely false concerns,” Jenkins told CalCoastNews.

San Luis Obispo staff also voiced concern the non-discrimination ordinance would prevent the city from raising $200,000 from landlords from a business tax.

Jenkins said the tax on landlords is passed onto renters, and the city will spend $200,000 anyway on a special election.

“It is all smoke and mirrors and an attempt to undercut the initiative and raise doubt,” Jenkins said. “Every one of these is a false doubt.”

To city staff, though, the loss of revenue associated with the rental inspection program appears to be a major issue. The city is currently facing a projected budget shortfall of more than $5 million in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

Councilwoman Andy Pease has said staff is worried about losing the money and staffers say they need something in place of the repealed inspection ordinance.

On Tuesday, Pease raised the possibility of creating a competing ballot measure. None of the council members brought up specific plans for a new program, but the council agreed to discuss a possible competing ballot measure at its May 2 meeting.

Previously, Councilman Aaron Gomez said he believes the city needs to replace the controversial rental inspection ordinance with a newly crafted rental inspection program. Hence, the council may consider placing a new rental inspection program on the ballot to compete with the non-discrimination in housing initiative.

aaron g

SLOJoey if you call the City Clerk’s office they would be happy to direct you to the necessary department for that information. (805) 781-7100


I understand anti-discrimination laws and the need for them but this new ordinance states; “you shall not discriminate against any person based upon age, income, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity or inability or ability to own a home”. So are they saying if you’re a landlord you HAVE you rent to someone even if they have no income? You can’t discriminate against someone who can’t afford the home you are renting out? Who writes these things? And how do they keep getting elected?


Another move to a government takeover of the housing in SLO. Forcing owners to rent to anyone even though the renter can’t afford it. That should “solve” any housing shortage; just wait and see how many new units are going to be built under these conditions. Look at how much rental housing has been built in the past few years due to the prohibitively expensive regulations and fees that the City already has in place. Now add another huge barrier that prevents owners from being able to collect rents from unqualified tenants.

To be consistent, they should also prevent discrimination based on income to include grocery stores selling food and retail stores selling clothing. Add car dealers in there, too. After all, these are all necessities of life. According to this logic, it would motivate more clothing stores, grocery stores, and car dealerships to open in this area since everyone would be able to afford to buy whatever they want no matter if they had the means or not!


if you have stated is true, the “law” states ” inability or ability to OWN a home”. so, my pea brain interprets that as can’t afford a home – but I could still deny someone with bad credit or references. many good people can’t OWN a home but would probably make good renters. also, doesn’t exclude what is typically the biggest denial reason PETS or i guess – kids, since its not listed.


It also says “income”.

aaron g

shelworth, just to clarify this was not created by an elected official. It was brought forward by a group of citizens. Since it was a validated petition Council had two options: Adopt the ordinance as written or put it to a vote of the public. The Council was unwilling to adopt it as written for many reasons, thus it has to go to a vote of the public.


I am still unclear on what horrible problem they are trying to alleviate. What was happening before this started that caused this uproar? Were there masses of renters complaining about conditions?

Rich in MB

Goodbye Marx….Hello Harmon…same pants suit.


What an incredible disappointment this current council has become. Controlled by staff, too inexperienced and ignorant to think for themselves, totally disloyal to residents of all sorts — they deserve to be tossed out for failing to represent our interests. But boy, a developer — they’re full in on their interests.

Jon Tatro

Keep fighting the fight Stew. We should also force the City Staff and Council admit in writing that the original inspection ordinance was proven to be a violation of the 4th and 5th Amendment so they can’t do something this stupid again without being sued.


As long as Lichtig is still there don’t count on it.


Be careful what you ask for. If this is canceled, the City staff will just look further for another project by which to tax the law abiding citizens. I can’t wait for DIablo to close their doors and watch SLO have a meltdown. They have been the biggest benefactor of Diablo with property taxes, every year when the reactors (there are tow plants on site and every other year the rods are changed, one a year) change the rods the sales tax, donations to non-profits in the City, etc. Boy, glad as a native of SLO I moved out when I did 10 years ago, seeing the writing on the wall. It was obvious when Katie Lickit was selected after Ken Hampien, Bill Statler retired (how many Finance Directors have they gone through – I understand the current budget process is a mess and the Finance Director is in over her head), Jan Marx was selected as Mayor and now replaced with Socialist Harmon. This City deserves everything it is and is not getting, The good news, I hear street talk that KATHIE LICKIT will be RETIRING in two years when she turned 55 years with her pension of 2.7% x number of years in service and so she will be pushing for a special deal soon. Good news, she will be gone, bad news, it definitely could get worst under the leadership!

aaron g

I normally refrain from commenting, but this article does a very poor job representing the truth of this issue. I was one of the 4 Council Members who voted to repeal the Rental Housing Inspection Ordinance. This article claiming that their is intent to replace the program is simply false. I suggest you read this article for a better representation:

Other options are to watch the recording of the Council meeting or reach out to your representatives and ask them directly. All of that information can be found at


Aaron, when do I get MY/OUR money refunded.???? I have contacted the mayor and the all council members. I just got silence!!!!!!!



It’s the only thing left to do. Wow.


If the city staff is going to continue to run San Luis Obispo, instead of perhaps, the elected City Council for example, I’d prefer if staff persons be elected by a majority of the citizens.