Riverside City Councilman Frank Schiavone says the calls started coming two weeks ago.
Merchants and residents from across the city wanted to know why Schiavone wanted to make life tougher for low-income families and small businesses. Why, they asked, would he choose a deep recession as the right time to crack down on garage sales—those weekend yard bazaars so useful in helping families make ends meet? Why was he also trying to drive estate-sale businesses—typically small, family-owned enterprises—into the ground?
Schaivone says he was flabbergasted by the calls. It wasn’t that the callers were so angry that he found strange, but that what they were angry about simply wasn’t real. The Ward 4 councilman now believes the calls may have been the result of a misinformation campaign directed at him.
“I must have spoken with 25 people who were given wrong or inaccurate information,” Schiavone says in a phone interview. “I suspect someone’s out there spreading this information deliberately.”
At the center of so much angst was an amendment to the city’s decades-old garage-sale ordinance. The original municipal code, one of the toughest in Southern California, prohibited residents from holding more than one yard sale a year. Schiavone’s amendment to the rule, which he introduced to the council two weeks ago and which became law Tuesday, raises the number of garage sales allowed to four a calendar year, or once a quarter.
The amendment also addressed estate sales—typically one-time events in which family members or professional liquidators sell off the possessions of people who had died. Since the city had no rules governing estate sales, code-enforcement officers treated them as if they were garage sales—once a year and only once a year. Schiavone’s amendment institutionalized that practice, meaning estate-sale businesses can now hold up to four sales a year at the same address.
In other words, the councilman pushed through an amendment that quadrupled the number of allowable garage and estate sales in the city. So why was he getting all these calls accusing him of being an enemy to garage and estate sales?
Indeed, one of those calls came from this reporter, who had been told by a local estate-sale business owner that Schiavone was putting him out of business. The owner, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation by City Hall, said he himself had been “told” the new law allowed only four estate sales a year in Riverside, regardless of location. The owner wouldn’t’ say exactly who gave them this information, except that he’d heard it from another estate-sale liquidator.
“[The liquidator] said, ‘Keep an eye on what the council’s doing—they’re trying to shut us down,’” the owner said.
Schiavone says that sentiment is particularly galling because it’s the exact opposite of what the amendment does.
“The owners don’t have all the information,” he says. “They could have a thousand estate sales a year, though anyone who says they need to have more than four at the same location obviously is not legitimate. Before this ordinance, they could legally have only one estate sale a year at the same location. Now they can have three more at that location a year. I spoke to several legitimate estate-sale owners, and they’re more than happy with the changes.”