The Safety Enhancement Zone Ordinance and the Unruly Gatherings Ordinance are both designed to regulate student behavior, but that’s not the only thing they have in common. San Luis Obispo voters passed both ordinances during summer when most students — who make up a significant portion of renters in San Luis Obispo — weren’t present.
That’s set to happen again this summer, when a special election will be held to vote about implementing a nondiscrimination in housing clause. This could be the third rental ordinance in four years to pass during the summer when students aren’t present for the election.
Students living in on-campus housing can’t register to vote in San Luis Obispo County because on-campus housing isn’t within San Luis Obispo’s city limits. Only students who are registered to vote and live off campus in San Luis Obispo can vote.
The city has 27,767 registered voters in total, 6,315 of which are between the ages of 18 to 24. This means 23 percent of registered voters are the typical age of college students. Therefore, the student vote has the potential to make an impact on future elections in San Luis Obispo.
However, even though students living on campus can’t vote in the city of San Luis Obispo, the ordinances passed in San Luis Obispo still affect them.
Examples of summer voting without students
The Safety Enhancement Zone Ordinance was adopted Aug. 20, 2013. The Ordinance is intended to crack down on activities during Mardi Gras, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and Week of Welcome, in order to deter large crowds, excessive and illegal alcohol consumption and public drunkenness.
The Unruly Gatherings Ordinance was adopted July 18, 2015 and discouraged gatherings of 20 or more people on private property resulting in noise disturbances, obstruction of public streets or public drunkenness.
Even though The Rental Housing Inspection was officially repealed March 7 due to concerns that the ordinance was an invasion of privacy, there will still be a special election this summer due to a petition, according to council member Andy Pease.
Graphic by Sam Pryor
The petition was organized by council member Dan Carpenter and attorneys Stew Jenkins and Dan Knight. It garnered more than 7,000 signatures — well beyond the minimum requirement of 3,918 votes. The petition was created to prevent the Rental Housing Inspection Program from ever being reinstated, according to Pease.
The nondiscrimination in housing clause the petition opts for would prohibit discrimination based on age, race, gender, income, ethnicity, ownership or renter status — prohibiting even “good discrimination” in favor of low-income seniors.
Breaking the habit
City council is now faced with a predicament. Since the petition received more than 3,000 votes, they either have to adopt the nondiscrimination in housing clause exactly the way it’s written, or put it to a vote over the summer when students are on vacation.
Even though Mayor Heidi Harmon wants to prevent a summer election so that students can participate in city ordinance conversations, the timing of the election is out of her control.
“Once an initial process gets started, there’s all these markers that you have to do and timeframes and I don’t think we know quite yet but I heard July [or] August,” Harmon said.
Although the nondiscrimination in housing clause won’t negatively affect students directly, it sheds light on the bigger picture of how ordinances can still be put to a vote with enough signatures. As for Harmon, she wants these conversations to happen during times students are present.
Video by Will Peischel
City council will be sending out mail-home ballots regarding the nondiscrimination policy and students must be a registered voter and live in off-campus housing to vote in the special election.
Those who are out of town for the summer will have to obtain their ballots and then mail them in. Students with questions about the special election can call the San Luis Obispo County Clerk Recorder’s Office at (805) 781-5080 or visit their office at 1055 Monterey Street, Suite D120.