Nobody asked me, but…

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From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

What is it that comes over legislative bodies (and that includes City Councils) from time to time that sends them into the silly zone? Sometimes I think they just get bored. Sometimes they get a bunch of silly people who have a way of popping up in the public comment portion of their agenda, with silly ideas, and after hearing them enough times perhaps those ideas don’t seem so silly anymore. Sometimes they just don’t think things through.

Let me suggest a few recent examples in our own little town.

In our infinite wisdom, we decided we were not going to permit smoking on the public beaches in Malibu. Now I can understand limiting smoking in enclosed spaces because there are some effects of secondary smoke, but why on an open beach? What are we saying? Are we saying that Malibu thinks smoking is immoral? Or Malibu thinks smoking is bad for your health and we’re going to protect you from yourself whether you want it or not because we know what’s best for you? Perhaps we’re saying it’s politically incorrect to smoke and we’re not going to allow it.

The next question is how are we going to enforce this? One of the ways the Sheriff’s Department handles silly laws is they only enforce them when they receive complaints. Rest assured there is always some damn fool who complains. We spend several million dollars a year for law enforcement, and just think of the cost of having some deputy walking the beach issuing smoking citations. The odds are they’re not going to do it because it’s a stupid waste of manpower and they know it. So, effectively, we have passed an ordinance that’s unenforceable and won’t be enforced, and everyone knows it. So the question I ask is, why bother? All it does is create contempt for the law and make it very difficult for the deputies.

Recently we decided that we don’t want any Styrofoam cups in our own town either. There is an entire bunch of scientific and pseudo scientific information out there that Styrofoam is bad for the environment, or parts of the environment, or the fishes, or something or other. Most of the evidence, as it invariably is in this kind of situation, is anecdotal. The data is frequently emotional. “Oh my god, Chicken Little, we have to do something; the sky is falling.” What invariably isn’t there is any decent research. What actually is the cost to the environment and was there any serious attempt to calculate the environmental price of the alternatives? And again there is the question of how we are going to enforce this.

We started asking the local retailers if they knew about the ordinance and what it meant. Most had never heard of it. It possibly could impact a lot of places. Does it mean that the coffee shops have to have a special type of cup and top for Malibu? How about market takeout? How about plastic in the cleaners? How about places that use Styrofoam as an insulator, or in packaging? Suppose Starbucks decides they want to litigate this. Do we actually want to go to court on something as trivial as this? So what happens if they do challenge us? Do we litigate to the Supreme Court or do we just tuck our tail between our legs and agree not to enforce it?

We already have a couple of other ordinances that are largely ignored. There is a city ordinance regulating jet skis. It came about because one City Councilmember, since gone, was upset about the noise. Typically, it’s now pretty much ignored.

We passed another ordinance to prohibit the use of grass blowers because of the noise. It also was a total waste of time and money.

What next? There are a load of problems we could deal with.

How about we take a foreign policy position on Iraq or homeland security?

Or, we’ve got a lot of senior citizens in Malibu, so maybe we should have an ordinance relating to the proposed changes in Social Security.

Or, obesity is a national problem. Perhaps we should have an ordinance limiting the fat content in the fast food restaurants in Malibu.

Or, a city has to deal with real problems. If it wastes its time, its staff and its resources on silliness, it doesn’t leave anything for real problems.

So now the solution is to ask us for an increase in the sales tax to raise some additional funds.

Frankly, I’m skeptical. I want to see the justification to raise the sales tax. It’s reasonable for us to ask, as any parent would, what have you done with the money I already gave you? The Chamber of Commerce has been asking for an economic study for several years now. We’ve been saying to the city that we need an economic plan. We need to know where we are going. We need to set some economic priorities. To date no recent studies have been done. I think that before you start asking for more money, you have to figure out where you are and what you really need as opposed to what you’d like to have.

Unfortunately, there isn’t time to do that if we spend our time on silliness.