David Rodeback's Blog

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Thursday, May 25, 2006
Who Was That Masked . . . Bus?

Last evening, from about 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., a chartered tour bus led two officers in an AFPD patrol car on a low-speed, meandering tour of American Fork's central neighborhoods . . .

Last evening, from about 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., a chartered tour bus led two officers in an AFPD patrol car on a low-speed, meandering tour of American Fork's central neighborhoods, stopping frequently for a minute or two at a time, but not to let anyone off or on.

No, it was not an even weirder re-creation of 1994's weird low-speed O. J. Simpson chase. But it got some puzzled looks. In fact, the AFPD was there in a marked vehicle mostly to keep residents from feeling they needed to call the AFPD to report the odd appearance on narrow residential streets. (I later joked with the officers about the apparent O. J. parallel, but I'm not sure they're old enough to have been paying attention in 1994. Strange, I don't feel old . . .)

Two years ago, under de facto chair Doug Bethers' leadership, the American Fork Nuisance Abatement Committee took city leaders on a bus tour of the city to acquaint them with the severity of the challenges the Committee tries to address -- such as yards full of abandoned cars, tenants who treat their front yards as garbage dumpsters, dangerously neglected vacant lots and abandoned structures, and so forth.

The Committee has since been renamed the Neighborhood Preservation Committee, but that's not the most interesting change. This year's tour was a happier thing, because it could highlight numerous successes -- thanks to neighbors, local organizations, and the tireless efforts of AFPD Lieutenant Darren Falslev and City Enforcement Officer Jim Hardy. It still included many of the two dozen or so remaining or new challenges on the Committee's work list, but that list is less than half as long now as it was in 2004. There was some discussion along the way of the inadequacy of certain City ordinances and some changes the Committee is preparing to propose.

The tour was a happier experience for another reason. Led by relatively new Mayor Heber Thompson, the new adminstration seems much more willing than the previous one to consider the problems, study the current solutions, ask substantive questions, listen to various thoughts about how to improve things, and -- dare one hope? -- actually do something.

Peering out the heavily tinted bus windows were Mayor Thompson and City Councilors Storrs, LeBaron, Rodeback, and Gunther, along with a variety of other City officials, members of the Neighborhood Preservation and Beautification Committees, an assortment of spouses, a few children (two of mine), American Fork Citizen stalwart Barbara Christiansen, and some residents from difficult areas who talked about their efforts and frustrations to reverse their neighborhoods' decline.

Watch for the Neighborhood Preservation Committee, of which I am a member, to urge the City to do the following things in the reasonably near future:

  • Enforce existing zoning laws against illegal apartments.
  • Put some teeth in existing nuisance abatement laws, which can still be defied almost indefinitely without serious consequence.
  • Begin requiring owners of multifamily rental properties to obtain annually renewable business licenses, which will in turn require some basic attention to the safety, legality, and habitability of apartments. (Most of the nuisance problems in the city involve rentals and absentee landords.)
  • There is also some interest among residents and officials in prohibiting the parking of tractor-trailer rigs and other large trucks and equipment on residential streets; the Committee will probably propose that, too. (This would not include trucks which are actually hauling stuff to or from locations in those neighborhoods.)

On one hand, a sea change in City leadership has the Neighborhood Preservation Committee feeling less like the City's unwanted stepchild and more like welcome participants -- and hoping that progress might soon feel more like brushing teeth than pulling them.

On the other hand, we'll surely hear again from the hard-core libertarian minority which thinks my neighbors should be free to open a car dealership, a crack house, and/or an open-air garbage dump on the residential properties next to mine, because their property rights are absolute and (apparently) mine aren't. They will likely revive the tired absurdity of calling the Neighborhood Preservation Committee a bunch of Nazis trying to impose its particular tastes on the entire city.

I'm fairly certain that the Committee is not trying to impose its tastes or sense of beauty. Committee members have no single, shared version of those things in the first place. And even in matters where members could probably all agree, we're still not inclined to impose personal standards of beauty and taste.

For example, we won't be going after those tacky, lifesize, black sillhouettes of cowboys, curvaceous females, etc., which adorn certain lawns and mailboxes in the city. And I doubt that the people who annually fill a single front lawn with enough gaudy holiday kitsch to adorn an entire neighborhood need to fear any official City counteroffensive. The ACLU might eventually be a different matter . . .

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