Using its absurd draconian police powers embedded in its Blight Ordinances, the City of Oakland has fined a woman resident of Oakland the amount of $951.00 as a penalty for leaving her garbage can on the street curb for a couple of days.
This morning’s Contra Costa Times reported an outrageous story of bullying by the City of Oakland, “Woman fined $951 for leaving garbage can out,” (The Contra Costa Times, April 4, 2008). It seems that this woman, who had been away from home for three days, had left her garbage can on the curb to be picked up and some anonymous busybody neighbor had reported it to the Oakland Blight Police. (Back in the good ole days, the garbage collectors used to walk up to each home, press on a cover lever, lift out a small cylindrical garbage can from its hole and carry it back to the garbage truck. They then returned the can to its hole and closed the cover...).
Oakland needs to completely scrap its over-reaching heavy-handed Blight laws and start over with some open public hearings on this subject and related subjects: flowers, grasses, shrubs, trees, vines and perennials grown on private property. Oakland residents have had their private properties raided and devastated by over-zealous and untrained and ignorant contractors in past years.
Blight exists in the mind of the beholder. One person’s “blight” may be another person’s picturesque or natural-looking. We need to end this present abusive system of secret spying and reporting by neighbors on other neighbors to the Blight Police bureaucracy, which then does selective enforcement of their overly-broad and unconstitutionally-vague rules. Selective enforcement is both arbitrary and discriminatory.
This Oakland system is an echo of the former communist East German government system of neighbor spying on neighbor and then reporting their observations to the secret police. The Sixth Amendment to our Constitution, requires that we be allowed to publicly confront our accusers in open hearings in court. We are tired of the spying and secrecy of the Bush regime in Washington, DC. We don’t need to have these same governmental bullying tactics applied to us in Oakland. We should not have to live in fear of our neighbors who may not care for the cut of our shrubs to be able to secretly and anonymously report us to the Oakland Blight Police for persecution and prosecution.
The Oakland City Council should immediately repeal its present bullying “blight” laws and should start from scratch and hold open public hearings on any future laws attempting to regulate garbage cans left on the street and the state of flowers, grasses, shrubs, trees, vines and perennials grown on private property.
James K. Sayre is an Oakland resident.