The issue came to the commission’s attention after the ASUCD Senate passed a resolution, authored by Sen. Michael Lay, calling for an ordinance ensuring the right of Davis renters to post political signs. Several renters had complained to City and ASUCD officials that landlords were not allowing them to put up signs in support of certain candidates for public office.
ASUCD Sen. Andrew Peake:
“The right to free speech is a right guaranteed to everyone, not just to those who own property. When it comes to political participation, it shouldn’t matter whether you own your home or not. When certain members of the community aren’t allowed to participate in the democratic process in this way, it’s a form of disenfranchisement.”
City staff circulated a legal memorandum stating that landlords who prohibited their tenants from posting political signs were most likely out of step with the law.
The meeting itself was marked by harsh dialogue and contentious debate between students and property owners and business interests coming primarily from the property owners and business interests.
The most remarkable was an exchange between ASUCD Senator Andrew Peake and Davis Chamber of Commerce CEO Sherry Puntillo. There seemed to be concern on the part of Ms. Puntillo and also Brenda Little who is the manager for Tandem Properties (owned by John Whitcombe), that the allowance of signs on rental property would lead to disputes and hostility.
It was pointed out that neighbors have similar problems potentially and it does not seem limited to just rental problems. Sen. Peake suggested that this is not a huge issue and that neighbors would be able to resolve such conflicts on their own.
Sherry Puntillo then suggested that Mr. Peake was “naive” to believe that this would occur and rudely asked “what color is the sky where you are.” Ms. Puntillo did not respond to emails inquiring into the incident.
In the end however, Sherry Puntillo voted with the majority to recommend the city council pass this ordinance. Only three members ended up voting against it, Brenda Little, Steven Worker who chairs the commission, and Christine Bonilla.
The issue of disputes–while clearly a concern–seems like a non-issue. It is not clear that there is any more danger about such disputes between apartment or rental unit neighbors than the rest of the population. And in fact, the sheer number of signs is likely to be significantly lower on such property.
I think the real issue is that apartment owners such as Tandem’s John Whitcombe, have traditionally supported pro-development candidates and placed a multitude of signs on their property. Now by allowing renters to place their own signs there will be competition.
According to several who participated and witnessed it, the disdain showed to the viewpoint of students by Brenda Little and the Chamber of Commerce CEO was alarming.
There was the belief that the comments were patronizing and they lacked a modicum of respect for students. This commission was set up to give students a voice in Davis City Government, but the students at this meeting came away somewhat believing that they were viewed as second class citizens, and not treated as equals with respect.
Nevertheless, this incident should not overshadow what was viewed as a huge step toward victory for students to be able to gain a voice in politics even from their rental units. It is the hope that with the support of the City-UCD Liaison Commission that the council will approve an ordinance that allows renters to post signs in and around their rental units.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting