Special Neighborhood Events

There’s been a discussion on NextDoor recently regarding rule changes the city made affecting “street celebrations” in San Carlos. The thread centered on the Eucalyptus Halloween event but by extension also included the Christmas/Holiday Light event also held on Eucalyptus.

The city has not changed the rules governing these kinds of events. Instead, the city notified the Eucalyptus residents that it was going to step up enforcement of existing rules and explained what those rules were.

The last change the Council made to the rules for these events was to waive the fees that used to be charged for them, and to provide for basic insurance coverage for the events. Those changes were made in order to encourage neighbors to come together and socialize.

So why the increased enforcement of existing rules?

Even though we all benefit from our increasingly-interconnected world we sometimes forget it also has unforeseen negative consequences. Where years ago the Eucalyptus events were mostly attended by San Carlans – because they were generally the only ones who knew about them – nowadays the Halloween and holiday displays attract visitors from all over.

That increases both vehicular and pedestrian traffic significantly, imposing a greater burden on the people who live there. In addition, I’ve been told by Eucalyptus residents that the behavior of visitors has declined over the years, particularly for the Halloween celebration. That holiday, for adults, often involves partying and drinking…and not all visitors refrain from engaging in behavior that disturbs and disrupts the neighborhood.

Over the last few years the Council was contacted on more than one occasion by Eucalyptus residents who wanted the city to do something to address these growing negatives. City staff did a lot of outreach to the Eucalyptus residents and determined that the least impactful thing that could be done which would address the concerns at least in part was to step up enforcement of long-standing rules.

Those rules include – if a neighborhood wants to throw an official event and close off a street – the requirement that a supermajority (2/3) of neighborhood households support the event. Why 2/3? Because all neighborhood events impact everyone in the neighborhood, and an event that, say, barely had support of 50% of the households would likely do more to fray neighborhood relationships than it would build them. And the ultimate goal here is for neighbors to get to know each other, and form bonds with each other, not just put on shows for visitors.

Nothing prevents households from creating displays for a holiday; that doesn’t require a permit. But the displays and activities must comply with existing city rules (e.g., regarding making too much noise after 9 PM) and, as always, the city will take what steps are necessary so that people can move safely through the area and get to and from their homes.

Far from being an unwarranted intrusion by government into private lives, this is a textbook case of why government exists: to enable a community to codify rules that enable large numbers of individuals — each with their own priorities, desires, needs and wants — to live together reasonably harmoniously.

Generally speaking that’s the goal of most governmental actions. Communities form governments in order to regulate and, if necessary constrain, interactions between individuals. Why? In order to make it worthwhile for individuals to be part of the community.

While we would each (probably) love to live in a world where we always got our own way in everything you can’t form a healthy, viable community that way. If I always get my way — and my way overrides your way — why would you choose to be part of a community with me?

By reminding people about our pre-existing rules governing neighborhood events our community, through its agent the city, is trying to remind us that for the good of all we need to manage how we engage in neighborhood events.

Are these community rules absolute? No. They can be changed whenever the community wants, by lobbying the Council to change them or overruling the Council through a plebiscite.

Will this reminder win favor with neighborhood residents who enjoy putting on big displays and inviting large numbers of people to admire them? Probably not. Will it meet the needs of residents who don’t want to have to deal with rowdy crowds demanding alcohol or candy or hanging out in front of their homes or perhaps even in their yards? Nope.

But hopefully it’ll be a not-unreasonable compromise. And if it isn’t, we’ll adjust it.

5 thoughts on “Special Neighborhood Events”

  1. Stephen Melz

    Enforcement of clear streets and alcohol consumption should be stepped up but anything farther than that is a sad over reach of local government. The “City of Good Living “ should be just that and not the city of over restrictions. It is understandable that the displays attract people from outside the area because home owners are spending large sums of money out of their own pockets and asking for nothing in return . This event is one of the things that draws people to this city and while they are here, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses are benefiting from it. The maximum amount of effort should be expended to minimize the red tape and enable the generosity of these San Carlos residents to be enjoyed by all.

  2. Hi Stephen,

    One of the issues here (probably the biggest one, but that’s just my opinion) is the balance the community, and the Eucalyptus neighborhood, wants to strike regarding the benefits you correctly cite and their impact on the households and people in and around Eucalyptus. Determining that balance — and changing it as and when the community wants to see it changed — is, in fact, the central job of government in general and local government in particular (given that we’re dealing here with about as local a situation as you can get). So it’s not a matter of overreach; it’s a matter of government doing its job.

    While it’s definitely the case that people have the right to decorate their homes as they wish, and celebrate as they wish, it’s important to remember there are no absolute rights (that’s true even of the right of free speech, which I like to think of as the most important and most fundamental political right we enjoy). Not because of any deep state kind of conspiracy working to inhibit or control individuals. But because when individuals organize themselves into communities they inevitably impose burdens on each other in the exercise of their individual freedom. Government, and law, exist primarily to regulate those interactions so that individuals can form and maintain healthy, viable communities, and thereby enjoy the benefits that being part of a community offers. That, too, is another balance that needs to be struck, and which needs to evolve over time as conditions change.

    Balances in general always negatively impact someone. That’s why I often use the term “least bad”, rather than “good”, to describe reasonable public decisions. In this case, the balance being struck will not satisfy either “side”…which means it’s probably not a bad balance as public balances go.

    The city isn’t doing anything new here. No new regulations were passed to support the letter that was sent to residents. In fact, arguably, the city was violating the rules established years ago by the community by ignoring the growing negative impacts and problems being reported.

    The letter is simply the community’s way of saying “please play by the rules”. That includes the option to request a formal road closure if enough neighborhood residents support doing so, as well as rules regarding noise, interfering unreasonably with the ability of residents to get to and from their homes on public rights of way, etc.

    There’s also the opportunity for community members to change the rules, by petitioning the Council, replacing Council members or launching a ballot initiative. That, too, is part of the process of government.

  3. Colleen Moore

    I’m really glad the city is stepping in to help contain the chaos of Eucalyptus on Halloween. We live two blocks away and so are impacted by this event. We see an increase in dangerous and aggressive driving on our block as people try to navigate the traffic to get home. Due to this we don’t feel safe sending our kids out to trick or treat alone. We used to really enjoy this tradition but it has become an unwelcome nuisance.

  4. I am really disappointed to read this. Halloween is all about the children and I am heart broken for them. Instead of working together to make this year the best yet, it appears the opposite has happened.

  5. I enjoy seeing all the kids in my neighborhood, too, Kate (we’re known as the “dragon house” because of our big inflated dragons).

    I’m confident the Eucalyptus neighborhood will find a way to celebrate Halloween in a way that everybody who lives there can accept.

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