Time to round up the whole county

As the threat of possible terrorist activity in America increased recently, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge urged citizens to be aware of what’s going on around them, watch out for potential threats and report suspicious activities.

He warned of a broad range of troublemakers who might threaten public safety – from groups of radical religious extremists to “disgruntled individuals.”

This is obviously well thought-out advice during these troubled times, but that last part has me a little worried.

Watching out for disgruntled individuals in someplace like Happy Jack, Ariz., might be a perfectly reasonable course of action. But keeping an eye on even half the disgruntled individuals in S’lano County – where men are men and women are mad as hell – would severely tax the combined resources of the FBI, CIA and Future Farmers of America.

Take a moment and just glance out the window, fellow Solanoan. Chances are you’ll see a half-dozen disgruntled people before breakfast.

(And if you don’t see any at all, then you’ll have something to be disgruntled about, right?)

Let’s face it, disgruntlement is an honorable and long-established way of life around here. The last happy-go-lucky idiot left S’lano County in 1951 after discovering there was no miniature golf course in Elmira. He’s currently working as a clown at a retirement village near Gilroy.

(Hey, this is righteous – I checked out the Gilroy Clown Registry…)

Disgruntlement in S’lano County may, in fact, have hit an all-time high during March thanks to the county’s ambitious new government center construction project in downtown Fairfield. Overnight it wiped out something like 30,000 convenient parking places around the courthouse and left a whole mess of already disgruntled people even more disgruntled.

Not that the county actually began doing anything with the old parking lots. No, they just fenced them off for two months in the event that sometime in the future they might actually start construction of something in the same general area.

Incoming lawyers, jurors and felons were vaguely directed to an empty lot somewhere near Union Avenue and Ohio Street. Unfortunately, many of them inadvertently turned into an empty lot at Union Avenue and Broadway where a precipitous driveway ripped the transaxles from their cars, which subsequently were towed away by an irascible property owner.

So, after being summoned to court, having their cars eviscerated and towed to an impound yard just west of Correctionville, Iowa, these already quite disgruntled Solanoans eventually got back on the road only to find that the price of regular gasoline had jumped to more than two bucks a gallon while they were paying off their towing fees.

Disgruntled? Hey, amigos, at this rate we’re going to have to round up the whole county just so the rest of the nation can feel relatively safe…

Originally published April 6, 2003

Truth, justice and Christmas lights

Creeping municipal fascism – don’t ya just love it?

Over the past decade or so I’ve observed with growing alarm a national trend whereby local governments step boldly onto private property and try to tell residents what their homes should look like and what they may – or may not – be allowed to do in their own yards and driveways.

I’m not talking about methamphetamine labs, toxic waste storage or sexual gymnastics in public view. I’m talking about cities dictating what one’s home should look like, what kind of vehicle one can park in one’s own driveway and, perhaps, how one’s prize hydrangeas are trimmed.

Davis police once went so far as to arrest a resident for snoring too loudly in the privacy of her own bedroom. More recently, the Dixon City Council was embroiled in months of debate over whether a local man could leave his own pickup truck parked in his own driveway based upon how mechanically sound it might be at any given moment.

Wheeeeee!

A recent wire service report from Arizona, however, almost makes the folks in Dixon and Davis seem like sapient human beings.

According to Associated Press, Tony and Angelica Flores were arrested, handcuffed and tossed into jail for failing to remove Christmas lights from their Peoria, Ariz., home.

Trouble started about a year ago when the couple was notified that they were in violation of a city ordinance requiring holiday decorations be removed from Peoria homes no later than 19 days after Christmas. Tony Flores, however, had been injured at work and was unable to remove the lights in a timely manner.

Hey, no excuses, pal. Peoria apparently has adopted a zero tolerance policy for Christmas light desperadoes. Definitive action had to be taken to “maintain the integrity of neighborhoods,” city officials told Associated Press.

Unfortunately, nobody’s talking about maintaining the integrity of individual homeowners’ property rights or freedom from intrusive municipal meddling.

No city should have the power to enact or enforce subjective lifestyle ordinances unless the public health and safety is threatened.

If the Flores’ Christmas bulbs were blinding oncoming motorists, interfering with air traffic control or in danger of bursting into flame and threatening neighboring structures, the lights, of course, should have been abated.

If, however, those lights were simply unseasonal or in remarkably bad taste, the city should mind its own business.

The same goes for the vehicle you park in your driveway, what color you paint your house and how often you mow your lawn.

If small children aren’t going to get hopelessly lost in your fescue, if your pickup truck isn’t inhabited by 12-pound rats gnawing on discarded dynamite, if you aren’t storing radioactive waste along your driveway, it’s nobody’s business but your own.

Health and safety issues must be addressed by municipal authorities in a prompt and reasonable manner. When and where you hang your Christmas lights, though, is between you and Santa’s elves.

Originally published March 3, 2002