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Code enforcement: Spitting into the wind Manteca-style

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POSTED September 6, 2012 10:43 p.m.

Spitting on public sidewalks in many cities such as in Daytona Beach is illegal.

It’s obviously not a top priority given the fact when they issue a $100 citation it becomes national news.

Cities - just like our state and federal governments - have what seems like endless rules and regulations on the books that most assuredly at one time or another make all of us criminals as defined by breaking the law.

Rarely are laws governing behavior - personal or what you may do with your property - repealed. Modified, yes, repealed rarely unless the Supreme Court decrees otherwise.

We are a nation of laws to the point we’ve virtually codified common sense.

Obviously all of the laws cannot be enforced. There are limited resources. And there’s a thing called reason.

That hasn’t, however, stopped some cities from time-to-time prosecuting someone for spitting on a sidewalk.

Outlawing spitting on sidewalks was obviously done for health concerns. In the same vein it would make sense to outlaw sneezing on a public street or even smoking as one is walking down a sidewalk. The odds are less health issues are created by spitting on a sidewalk per se than second-hand smoke or sneezing. Yet with the exception of times such as the Great Flu Epidemic of 1919 when many cities including Manteca made it punishable by a $25 fine to venture outside in public without wearing a face mask, we do not attach punitive consequences doled out by the government for what is essentially a breach of common decency.

Laws such as spitting on a public sidewalk get enforced only when someone is annoyed and has the wherewithal to either cite or get someone to do so.

Yet there are probably hundreds if not thousands of daily instances of spitting on public sidewalks. It would be time consuming, ludicrous, and - using an over worn term - Gestapo-like to have zero tolerance enforcement of spitting. There is one place on the planet you never have to worry about stepping on gum or bacteria-laden mucus and that’s Singapore. Everyone says they want to have their community look like Singapore but they don’t want the draconian iron-fisted rules and enforcement to make it happen.

Which brings us to Manteca’s property codes and how - or more pointedly - they aren’t enforced.

There is little doubt the city has the resources for weed abatement enforcement given the issuance of more than 1,000 citations each year. It is obvious the professionals we entrust to keep our city safe from fire believe that high weeds and rubbish increase the odds drastically for fires.

You don’t need to complain about other fire hazards targeted in municipal codes since the city won’t act unless someone complains about a violation involving a structure - shade or otherwise - that’s crowding a property line fence and is clearly noted in codes as a fire hazard. Making it a tad perverse is the same people responsible for weed citations - firefighters - can also clearly see such offending structures when they’re doing their annual inspections yet apparently see no need for an alarm, hence no citations.

What all of this means is that there are vast segments of our laws - including municipal codes - that are only there for convenience. In the case of the authorities, it is there only if they feel they need to use it when it suits them instead of being there as a law they have a duty to enforce.

People should have a reasonable expectation that laws are on the books will be enforced and not to be applied in a random complaint driven manner that essentially has the government choosing winners and losers via code enforcement.

Why should one property owner be forced to pay $1,500 to relocate a fence that clearly doesn’t invoke legitimate sight line safety issues while another on a much busier thoroughfare can violate the same rule and get off Scot-free?

If it takes a complaint to finally discover a “fire hazard” that has eluded firefighters for 20-plus years while doing annual weed abatement citations such as the case with Doug Zirpel’s shade structure, then there is something terribly wrong.

Either enforce the laws on the books or get rid of them.

Manpower may be a legitimate issue now but it wasn’t up until a few years ago. That said, the city’s response to the residents that raised legitimate questions about Manteca’s code enforcement strategies at Tuesday’s council meeting was no different than what they offered when the city had nearly a hundred more employees five years ago.



This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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