During the course of the hearing, the Council amended the original language to strengthen the ordinance.
As originally written, the ordinance would only impact those renters whose landlords did not have a provision in their lease that would ban campaign signs. While that turns out to be most of the rental agreements, the fear was that for this election cycle, renters would be able to display signs, but new rental agreements would contain provisions that would prevent the display of signs.
City Clerk Margaret Roberts during her staff report said:
“The ordinance that’s before you minimally addresses that in that it says that they [political signs] are allowable, however, currently if a lease between a landlord and a tenant prohibits political signs, or any signage in their windows, that contract would supersede our ordinance. With that said, the city attorney has prepared at my request some alternatives that would disallow landlords from forbidding them to put that in.”
City Attorney Harriett Steiner suggested that nothing would preclude the city from adding a section to the ordinance dealing with non-commercial advertising signs, that would enable renters to post signs on their rental unit space.
Councilmember Don Saylor voted in favor of the first reading, however, he requested to see material for the second reading. He suggested that the new language has not been seen by people outside of the room.
Due to the urgency of passing the ordinance in time for the early February primary, both Councilmember Saylor and Souza voted to pass the ordinance, but also to hear more at the meeting tonight.
Usually a second reading would merely be a consent agenda item, however, this is a full-blown regular item on the agenda.
In response to council request, City Attorney Harriet Steiner drafted a memo on the legal aspects of a sign ordinance.
Specifically she mentioned that there is not currently case law that protects the rights of individuals to post signs on private property. On the other hand, there is no law that prevents the state (or municipal government’s ability to enact laws that prevent a landlord from restricting the tenant’s right to display signs).
“While neither the state Constitution nor existing statutes explicitly protect tenant speech, the applicable cases do not appear to limit the state’s ability to enact laws prohibiting landlords from restricting tenant speech. In fact, as noted above, the state has already enacted laws regulating common interest developments and private owners of mobile home parks, without any court challenge.”
The open question at this time however is whether landlords, now being forewarned, will mobilize against this ordinance. Recall that there was strong opposition to this ordinance aired at the City-UCD Liaison Commission.
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.
Both Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sherrie Puntillo and Tandem Properties Representative, Brenda Little, aired strong dissent at that meeting. Not coincidentally both are strong political allies of the Council Majority, particularly Stephen Souza and Don Saylor who both had expressed reservation about the lack of notification on the language change at the December meeting.
Will this ordinance hit a snag at the last hour or will political pressure and expediency force it through? We shall find out the answer to this at the meeting tonight.
—Doug Pauld Davis reporting