I still can recall the first time I realized that government could overreach to the point of offensiveness and even absurdity.
It was back in the 1970s, and I was covering a planning commission meeting some place up north. While I was waiting for the planners to get to my issue, they began to talk about some guy who wanted to put a fence in his backyard.
They got into a vigorous and sometimes heated discussion about what kind of wood he should be made to use and how high the city should allow his fence to be.
And I thought — are you kidding me? They’re telling some poor shlub how to build his backyard fence? Shouldn’t that be between him and his neighbors?
What the hell business is it of the government? I remember thinking.
Little did I realize that decades later, the government would be all over homeowners in countless ways, like flies on the potato salad.
More surprising: Many, if not most of us, have grown so accustomed to these intrusions that we take them for granted.
I can’t tell you how many stories I have covered about government audacity. Regulations telling a deli owner how big his sandwich board should be. Rules telling a homeowner what shade of sandstone he should use to paint his house. An argument over whether a warehouse owner should paint his building gray or brown. And so on and so forth.
That brings us to the Happiest City in America, aka San Luis Obispo. And its trash cans.
Perhaps San Luis Obispo’s happy denizens are giddy because half of them are telling the other half what to do, and that second half is too brainwashed to realize that they are being pushed around.
The city’s representatives have enacted a law that orders residents to keep their trash cans out of sight. If they don’t, they could face fines.
My reaction when I read this was all too familiar:
Are you kidding me? I asked myself, for the gazillionth time.
At what point in history did it become acceptable for a government to meddle so deeply into an individual’s personal business that it gives advice about how he should get rid of his waste?
And yet, the City Council has done this. Put your trash containers at the curb no earlier than 24 hours before a scheduled pickup, the city is scolding its residents, and get them out of sight within 12 hours of the dump truck’s departure from your street.
If anyone wonders why some folks dislike government, here is Exhibit A.
Not only is this behavior intrusive, it also costs money. Taxpayer dollars are paying for the trash can police and for the planners and clerks, and paper and pencils that go into creating and enforcing this irritating new law.
I’m not saying that governments should throw all their rules and regulations in the well, in the trash can. Clearly, you need some communal rules. And I believe people would agree on larger issues.
None of us would care to have PG&E store its nuclear offal in a yard a few doors down the street, for example, and I think we could get near-unanimous approval for a ban on rusted trucks on cement blocks in the neighborhood. We’d all agree that our local restaurants should be rodent- and cockroach-free.
The question is: Where do you draw the line between legitimate governance and a government that is abusive?
Somewhere along the road, we began drawing that line too close to groupthink. We began to strangle individual rights with it.
I believe it is time to re-examine all these regulations and carefully decide which ones are the government’s business and which aren’t.
San Luis Obispo’s trash can dictum is an affront by the government to individual rights. So are rules telling individuals what color to paint their houses, how wide their sidewalks can be or what kind of wood they should use for their fences.
Other local governments hereabouts commit these same kinds of trespass.
If we don’t get a handle on this, we might as well acknowledge reality and change our name to Stepford County.