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