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.