Voters, city spar over wording on ballot

OCEANSIDE — Oceanside voters, represented by The Sutton Law Firm, sent a letter to City Council requesting ballot wording on the vacancy decontrol ordinance be changed. Currently the question voters will see on the ballot says rents on mobile home park spaces can be raised “to market value,” while the text of the ordinance, which voters will not see, says “without limit.” Some think the present ballot wording will prejudice voters to be in favor of the ballot measure.“The ballot question on the Oceanside vacancy decontrol measure is illegal, false and misleading,” Bradley Hertz, an attorney with The Sutton Law Firm, said. “Market value is very different from without limit. ‘Without limit’ the landlord can charge whatever he wants to charge.”There is still time for City Council to change the ballot wording before voting material is printed.

“It should state the essence of the measure, not use other terms that are not used in measure,” Hertz said. “The City Council can make the decision to make a few changes to wording.”

Voters represented by The Sutton Law Firm want the wording changed so that fellow voters clearly understand what they are deciding on.

“It’s a simple fix,” Hertz said. “The words ‘to market value’ be deleted and the words ‘without limit’ be inserted. It’s the most minimal change possible for it to be rewritten to make the question accurate. I hope the city responds in good faith.”

Hertz added that if City Council does not make the wording change a lawsuit would follow.

“We set a deadline for Feb. 23 for council to make a decision,” Hertz said. “We’ll proceed to court right away if council does not change the ballot question.”

City Council will meet Feb. 22 and discuss the item in closed session.

“If there is silence or rejection (from council) we’ll rush into court,” Hertz said. “We’re not arguing the pros and cons of the ordinance. We just want voters to have an accurate question.”

City Council previously OK’d the disputed wording and may stick by it.

“To prove wording is fraudulent or misleading, there is an extremely high standard,” said City Attorney John Mullen.

Mullen said the words “market value” came directly from the title of the ordinance.

“The ordinance included this language,” Mullen said. “In a nutshell they seem to believe to remove city regulations is not market rent.”

According to Mullen, “without limit” means without City Code Chapter 16B limits on mobile home space rent increases.

“An appraiser would tell you market rent assumes no artificial restraint,” Mullen said. “There are pages and pages of limits in the vacancy decontrol section (of Chapter 16B).”

Mullen said the present ballot wording is clear.

“To say (the wording) is fraudulent, I don’t think that is the case at all,” Mullen said.

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