Commission Recommends Free Speech Ordinance for Renters

Last Wednesday, the City-UC Davis Student Liaison Commission, which serves as an advisory body to the Davis City Council and examines a variety of issues that relate student affairs within the city of Davis, voted to to recommend passage of an ordinance protecting the right of Davis renters to display political signs in their windows or yards.

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

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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Elections

116 comments

  1. Good for Michael Lay, Andrew Peake, and the folks who voted for this. It’s preposterous that someone wouldn’t be allowed to display a sign on a rented property.

    In response to Ms. Puntillo’s “naive” comment, if a business/property owner feels so strongly about what is displayed on a property, they shouldn’t be renting it.

  2. Good for Michael Lay, Andrew Peake, and the folks who voted for this. It’s preposterous that someone wouldn’t be allowed to display a sign on a rented property.

    In response to Ms. Puntillo’s “naive” comment, if a business/property owner feels so strongly about what is displayed on a property, they shouldn’t be renting it.

  3. Good for Michael Lay, Andrew Peake, and the folks who voted for this. It’s preposterous that someone wouldn’t be allowed to display a sign on a rented property.

    In response to Ms. Puntillo’s “naive” comment, if a business/property owner feels so strongly about what is displayed on a property, they shouldn’t be renting it.

  4. Good for Michael Lay, Andrew Peake, and the folks who voted for this. It’s preposterous that someone wouldn’t be allowed to display a sign on a rented property.

    In response to Ms. Puntillo’s “naive” comment, if a business/property owner feels so strongly about what is displayed on a property, they shouldn’t be renting it.

  5. Perhaps the ordinance should state that only the renters should be able to place signs in front of their residence. Why should landlords be able to place signs on property they have rented out to others at all?

    It is my understanding – I know that this was at least discussed by previous City Councils – that lawn signs cannot be placed by landlords unless they get written permission from the tenants. For apartments, they could have a mini-vote to decide which signs should be displayed – the winners of the mini-vote get their signs posted on the property. At least this would better reflect the preferences of the people actually living there. Mr. Whitcome and others can show who he supports by placing a lawn sign in front of his own home.

    Regarding Sherri Puntillo’s comments – She is there at that meeting to represent the Chamber of Commerce. Why on earth would the Chamber of Commerce care enough about this issue to bicker about it?

  6. Perhaps the ordinance should state that only the renters should be able to place signs in front of their residence. Why should landlords be able to place signs on property they have rented out to others at all?

    It is my understanding – I know that this was at least discussed by previous City Councils – that lawn signs cannot be placed by landlords unless they get written permission from the tenants. For apartments, they could have a mini-vote to decide which signs should be displayed – the winners of the mini-vote get their signs posted on the property. At least this would better reflect the preferences of the people actually living there. Mr. Whitcome and others can show who he supports by placing a lawn sign in front of his own home.

    Regarding Sherri Puntillo’s comments – She is there at that meeting to represent the Chamber of Commerce. Why on earth would the Chamber of Commerce care enough about this issue to bicker about it?

  7. Perhaps the ordinance should state that only the renters should be able to place signs in front of their residence. Why should landlords be able to place signs on property they have rented out to others at all?

    It is my understanding – I know that this was at least discussed by previous City Councils – that lawn signs cannot be placed by landlords unless they get written permission from the tenants. For apartments, they could have a mini-vote to decide which signs should be displayed – the winners of the mini-vote get their signs posted on the property. At least this would better reflect the preferences of the people actually living there. Mr. Whitcome and others can show who he supports by placing a lawn sign in front of his own home.

    Regarding Sherri Puntillo’s comments – She is there at that meeting to represent the Chamber of Commerce. Why on earth would the Chamber of Commerce care enough about this issue to bicker about it?

  8. Perhaps the ordinance should state that only the renters should be able to place signs in front of their residence. Why should landlords be able to place signs on property they have rented out to others at all?

    It is my understanding – I know that this was at least discussed by previous City Councils – that lawn signs cannot be placed by landlords unless they get written permission from the tenants. For apartments, they could have a mini-vote to decide which signs should be displayed – the winners of the mini-vote get their signs posted on the property. At least this would better reflect the preferences of the people actually living there. Mr. Whitcome and others can show who he supports by placing a lawn sign in front of his own home.

    Regarding Sherri Puntillo’s comments – She is there at that meeting to represent the Chamber of Commerce. Why on earth would the Chamber of Commerce care enough about this issue to bicker about it?

  9. Gotta love it three days and he goes after Saylor, Souza, and now Sherry Puntillo. Who will it be tomorrow–stay tuned to the Vanguard and find out!

  10. Gotta love it three days and he goes after Saylor, Souza, and now Sherry Puntillo. Who will it be tomorrow–stay tuned to the Vanguard and find out!

  11. Gotta love it three days and he goes after Saylor, Souza, and now Sherry Puntillo. Who will it be tomorrow–stay tuned to the Vanguard and find out!

  12. Gotta love it three days and he goes after Saylor, Souza, and now Sherry Puntillo. Who will it be tomorrow–stay tuned to the Vanguard and find out!

  13. Sherry Puntillo “had to stay neutral” in the public power fight in order to be fair to her membership (read: suckle at the teet of PG&E).

    Seems like her political neutrality standard waivers from one issue to the next.

    As for the issue overall, I’d say that it’s not political signage that keeps the students disenfranchised in this city – it’s their near universal disinterest in local politics (and who can blame them??)

    To Tandem’s credit, they have particpated wholeheartedly in the past in voter registration drives, often keeping their renters informed of local politics through their newsletters. Many of the efforts have been lead by Brenda Little, and for that she should be commended.

    The signage issue, is undoubtedly more of an astetic one from Tandem’s pont of view. Does hanging a bedsheet from your balcony with a spray painted message on it equate free speech or just an eyesore to your neighbors?

    At the bottom of it, renters just don’t have the same rights on their rented property as owners do and to circumvent this rule a no-sign clause could just be made part of the lease agreement.

  14. Sherry Puntillo “had to stay neutral” in the public power fight in order to be fair to her membership (read: suckle at the teet of PG&E).

    Seems like her political neutrality standard waivers from one issue to the next.

    As for the issue overall, I’d say that it’s not political signage that keeps the students disenfranchised in this city – it’s their near universal disinterest in local politics (and who can blame them??)

    To Tandem’s credit, they have particpated wholeheartedly in the past in voter registration drives, often keeping their renters informed of local politics through their newsletters. Many of the efforts have been lead by Brenda Little, and for that she should be commended.

    The signage issue, is undoubtedly more of an astetic one from Tandem’s pont of view. Does hanging a bedsheet from your balcony with a spray painted message on it equate free speech or just an eyesore to your neighbors?

    At the bottom of it, renters just don’t have the same rights on their rented property as owners do and to circumvent this rule a no-sign clause could just be made part of the lease agreement.

  15. Sherry Puntillo “had to stay neutral” in the public power fight in order to be fair to her membership (read: suckle at the teet of PG&E).

    Seems like her political neutrality standard waivers from one issue to the next.

    As for the issue overall, I’d say that it’s not political signage that keeps the students disenfranchised in this city – it’s their near universal disinterest in local politics (and who can blame them??)

    To Tandem’s credit, they have particpated wholeheartedly in the past in voter registration drives, often keeping their renters informed of local politics through their newsletters. Many of the efforts have been lead by Brenda Little, and for that she should be commended.

    The signage issue, is undoubtedly more of an astetic one from Tandem’s pont of view. Does hanging a bedsheet from your balcony with a spray painted message on it equate free speech or just an eyesore to your neighbors?

    At the bottom of it, renters just don’t have the same rights on their rented property as owners do and to circumvent this rule a no-sign clause could just be made part of the lease agreement.

  16. Sherry Puntillo “had to stay neutral” in the public power fight in order to be fair to her membership (read: suckle at the teet of PG&E).

    Seems like her political neutrality standard waivers from one issue to the next.

    As for the issue overall, I’d say that it’s not political signage that keeps the students disenfranchised in this city – it’s their near universal disinterest in local politics (and who can blame them??)

    To Tandem’s credit, they have particpated wholeheartedly in the past in voter registration drives, often keeping their renters informed of local politics through their newsletters. Many of the efforts have been lead by Brenda Little, and for that she should be commended.

    The signage issue, is undoubtedly more of an astetic one from Tandem’s pont of view. Does hanging a bedsheet from your balcony with a spray painted message on it equate free speech or just an eyesore to your neighbors?

    At the bottom of it, renters just don’t have the same rights on their rented property as owners do and to circumvent this rule a no-sign clause could just be made part of the lease agreement.

  17. If we are going to allow a renter to put signs on property he does not own, how do you limit it to political signs? You are saying that the renter has the right to put up any sign he wants on property he does not own without the approval of the owner.
    We should all show up at DPD’s house and put re-election posters for Saylor and Souza on his front lawn. His tune would change.
    Typical progressive, everyone else has to do it, but not in my backyard.

  18. If we are going to allow a renter to put signs on property he does not own, how do you limit it to political signs? You are saying that the renter has the right to put up any sign he wants on property he does not own without the approval of the owner.
    We should all show up at DPD’s house and put re-election posters for Saylor and Souza on his front lawn. His tune would change.
    Typical progressive, everyone else has to do it, but not in my backyard.

  19. If we are going to allow a renter to put signs on property he does not own, how do you limit it to political signs? You are saying that the renter has the right to put up any sign he wants on property he does not own without the approval of the owner.
    We should all show up at DPD’s house and put re-election posters for Saylor and Souza on his front lawn. His tune would change.
    Typical progressive, everyone else has to do it, but not in my backyard.