Perspectives: Code enforcement, saving us from monsters it creates

OPINION – It’s too easy to shake our heads and shrug off the difficulties of strangers as regrettable statistical abstractions. We do it with automobile accidents, with crimes, and when others are diagnosed with incurable diseases.

It’s not that we’re insensitive or that we take joy in their predicament. More often than not, it’s simply that we haven’t been in that situation ourselves.

But when such things happen to someone we know personally or, heaven forbid, happen to us — our thinking changes. Unless, of course, a person is having difficulty with their local government.

For instance, when someone complains about code enforcement abuse in St. George, too many people automatically assume that the recipient must have done something to deserve it. But the number of people who have been strong-armed has grown until it is reaching a tipping point.

After years of increasingly authoritarian code enforcement, St. George officials are facing some long overdue resistance from the public. In its defense, the city claims these intrusive ordinances were enacted to “protect and preserve” its neighborhoods.

We’re told that such ordinances and codes are necessary to prevent a neighbor from putting in a pig farm or a chemical dump next door. These worst-case scenarios are intended to put us into a mindset of fear that chaos would reign without strict enforcement.

But the actual violations that St. George City code enforcers are sent out to discover and correct are too often monsters of the city’s creation.

For instance, in the past week, I’ve spoken with two individuals who called in to the Perspectives radio show I co-host who said they have been directly affected by code enforcement for the flimsiest of reasons.

Don told me of how he was threatened for having his unregistered jeep sitting in the driveway of his home. Keep in mind that this is not a collection of jeep parts or a pile of rust in the shape of a jeep. It’s a lawfully owned piece of personal property that is not currently running.

For a time, Don moved his jeep into his garage and the threatening letters from the city stopped. But when he had to move it back into the driveway to make room to store other property in his garage, the threats resumed.

Diane had purchased a 35-foot recreational vehicle that she parked at the side of her home. A code enforcer then trespassed 150 feet onto her property to determine that the vehicle was not licensed.

Previously, when the RV was licensed but parked on the street near her home, she had been cited and told to move it off the street. The city began imposing fines even as she was trying to get it running again. Eventually, Diane had to give the RV away for scrap to pay for the cost of having it towed away.

By what reasonable standard does the city have any right to insert itself into either of these people’s lives? The heel-clickers among us will try to hide behind the code saying: “If you are in compliance, you have nothing to fear.”

But their more-compliant-than-thou attitudes are conveniently blinding them to the real issue: Are the city’s actions really necessary to protect rights and serve justice?

The vehicles were causing no harm and did not present a danger to anyone. If the fact that they were unregistered is the real cause of concern, then the city should just come out and admit that it wishes to extort money from us in return for permission to keep our property.

Neighbors who would claim that the mere presence of Don’s unregistered Jeep or Diane’s unlicensed RV have harmed their property values need to consider if that’s really what’s at stake.

Do they have a recent appraisal showing the alleged drop in their property’s value? Are they in the process of actively selling their home? Can they demonstrate that measurable, objective harm has occurred?

If not, then they are most likely indulging a penchant to impose their will upon their neighbors. That is not a legitimate function of government at any level.

For every actual threat or problem addressed by code enforcement, we find a growing number of disputes that were actually created by it.

This is why it’s essential to recognize that behind every instance of authoritarian code enforcement, there is a person who is suffering very real consequences.

This can be difficult to appreciate when you’re not the one who has just received a letter from a complete stranger asserting authority over you and your property.

To dismiss the violation of their property rights as part of the price of living in an orderly community encourages the eventual abuse of our own. If we wouldn’t stand for it happening to us, then we should be willing to speak out when it happens to others.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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14 Comments

  • Kenneth Carlton February 17, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Sorry Brian, having lived in areas with weak or no code enforcement, I have to disagree with here. I’m willing to put up with a modest amount of “Petty Officialism” to have the nieghborhood I want to live in. You and I see “Eye to Eye” most of the time, but we diverge here.
    Ken Carlton

  • Ruth February 17, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Code enforcement is terrible! We were asked to move a fifth wheel from a spot that had for years served as a trailer parking spot and a boat parking spot for those previously living here. We are now paying storage fees for it while the spot it fit into sits completely empty. Additionally we were told we could not park anything in that spot within 25′ of the sidewalk (…setback regulations for building?) All the while there are homes with driveways that park their vehicles obviously much closer than 25′ from the sidewalk as well as businesses that have walls/gates built right at the sidewalk!

  • JAR February 17, 2014 at 9:29 am

    ‘I didn’t know that’. Shouldn’t a prospective home buyer be informed about standard city codes before signing a sales agreement to purchase a home?
    (Ah, Mr. owner, didn’t anyone tell you the city of St. George forbids any Blue, non approved- enviromental accepted vehicle to be parked in plain view in the neighborhood? And I see your smoking a corn cob pipe in plain view. That too, is a no no. May I also inspect your bathroom crappers to see if their approved?
    Buyer beware, or should there be a law that requires a buyer to read & accept all city codes in the escrow documents?
    You want me to paint my new car RED, really?

  • McMurphy February 17, 2014 at 9:59 am

    The kind of thuggery one can expect when the same petty tyrants are elected year after year. After all, if you can’t use the police powers of the city to force people to live and behave precisely as you wish, what is the point of being on the city council ?? If this has been going on for years, why has it only been the last year or so that it has come to light ??

  • Jace February 17, 2014 at 10:13 am

    We have put unsightly gashes in the side of every hillside around. We’ve built giant, unsightly houses on every hill top, extreme ridge of every mesa, wash and river even as far as the rim looking into Snow Canyon State Park yet this isn’t unsightly? We have spoiled every piece of natural beauty that once was but you can’t park an unregistered vehicle in your driveway? Where was the “Officialism” when our natural landscape was being destroyed so somebody could get a view of a factory mall? I’m calling this selective enforcement

    • Craig February 17, 2014 at 11:32 am

      Where was the “Officialism”
      I suspect they were lining their pocket$$ by calling it a campaign donation.
      Follow the money. Who is calling for any type of investigation on selective enforcement? Who is pretending to have any type of concern? The dots left by the money trail shouldn’t be hard to connect.

  • Paul Jensen February 17, 2014 at 11:04 am

    The City of St. George has the dripping, paint running word DIXIE emblazoned in white paint on one on its formost natural red rock landmarks, and thinks it’s a fine tradition to deface the beauty. But let a widow in the city who has just one little red hen that she’s had for years as a companion pet and she’s ordered to get rid of it. What’s becoming of our city when such blaring desacrations are allowed and such minor and trivial things are forbidden?

  • Bub February 17, 2014 at 11:44 am

    And yet the same idiotic officials keep getting elected year after year…

    • zeke February 17, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      So is that a slam against the officials or against the voters?

  • Harley rider February 17, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Having been in a position to assist the code enforcement officer in detecting “nuisances”, I have studied the codes they enforce. In every comment posted here, there is an existing code pertaining to them. The codes are written by elected representatives, who general mean well, and are responding to a problem that existed. Mayor Pike has said he wants to review the codes and well he and the council should. Bear in mind, when it comes to licensed vehicles, some state codes also apply.

    • Ruralite February 17, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      All that state code requires of unlicensed vehicles is that they not be driven or parked on public roads and streets. St. George, by defining junkers to be unlicensed vehicles, has overstepped its enforcement authority. I left Little California almost 16 years ago and haven’t looked back. Good riddance to that corrupt, overbearing local government in St. George and in Washington County as a whole.

  • Donovan Bock February 17, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    The top comment is a great example of how the average American actually despises freedom. This man is willing to support petty tyranny for the sake of his property values. A great example of why America is no longer a free country.

  • Aaron Tippetts ( Utahs Underbelly) February 21, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    I was hoping that the election of a new mayor in St. George would help with this issue.
    I thank God I’m homeless some days. I shan’t own anything that I cannot carry on my back at a dead run.

  • mater February 18, 2017 at 8:56 am

    As with most issues we face there are pros and cons anyone that has actually followed the code enforcement issues know that it has been a snowball effect of harassment and intimidation for years now and enforcement is being done by power mad old retired Poole with nothing better to do than push people around and it’s not just home owners that are facing their stupidity,business are being targeted for the joy of these jerks also , they need to be reigned in better yet get rid of the entire VIPS organization its corrupt and needs to be gone

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