City Council suffers from Pass-a-Law Syndrome

A few days ago, the Chronicle's Matt Stiles wrote quite a story on the seemingly endless stream of ordinances passed by City Council which are not enforced:

The object of concern was "pocket bikes" — speedy midget motorcycles that Houston City Council deemed a growing hazard and nuisance.

Council members spent three meetings discussing them. They debated for hours and added multiple amendments to a proposed ordinance. Finally, in May 2005, they banned the bikes from city streets.

Riding a pocket bike on a public road already violates state law. City officials said they were giving police and prosecutors a specific tool for a crackdown.

But the Houston Police Department hasn't issued a single citation.

"Unless they're getting calls, I can't imagine officers going out there and actively looking for it," said Hans Marticiuc, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union. "There's no time."

Ah yes, the pocket bike crisis. Remember that one?

But it doesn't stop there:

It's a trend. City Council creates new misdemeanors amid fanfare and debate, and sometimes nothing much seems to happen.

In recent months, the panel banned parking on esplanades and restricted roadside vehicle sales. Those rules also haven't produced a ticket, according to Municipal Court records obtained under the Texas Public Information Act.

The council's still going strong. It is considering an earlier juvenile curfew, tougher smoking rules and a ban on homeowners parking in their yards. Meanwhile, the city's health department has a single, part-time smoking inspector. And police are struggling with an officer shortage and an increase in violent crime.

"We spend so much time on all these ordinances, and they are just sitting on the books," said Councilman M.J. Khan, who raised concerns recently about curfew enforcement. "What's the point?"

Well, apparently the point is to make councilmembers feel like they are doing something, accomplishing some good. Call it therapy for civic-minded city officials. So the next time some public uproar comes about, councilmembers can say, "Don't look at us -- we passed a law against that!"

Well, Matt Stiles wrote his story too soon, because City Council is ready to take up another pressing city problem:

Downtown boosters have complained about it for years. Now a city council committee has come up with a proposed ordinance that would regulate news boxes on Houston streets.


Councilmembers who generally like the ordinance showed off pictures of how it’s done in other cities and wondered whether Houston’s going far enough.

I just want to go one step further and really include aesthetics, really see what individual businesses want,” said Councilmember Toni Lawrence.

Aha. The city may not be able to figure out how to get rid of graffiti, but Council is ready to pass a strict ordinance against newspaper boxes. And lest you worry there'll be no one to enforce the new ordinance, Lilliana Rambo, the city's Parking Manager, says her folks can handle the menace of non-color coordinated newspaper racks.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 08/16/06 08:59 PM | Print |

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