A recent news item highlights the insanity of what the taxpayers are paying for when we employ the police. The police are supposed to be paid to protect life and property, but the sheer number of ridiculous laws gives the police the discretion and power to enforce those ordinances they choose to enforce since no government, save a 100% police state, can possibly enforce all the laws on the books.
A homeless man was recently cited by the San Francisco Police Department for eating pizza at a downtown bus shelter near Market and 7th. The fine was $250 for “Eating and drinking in or on a system facility or vehicle in areas where those activities are prohibited by that system.” OK, prohibiting food or beverage on a MUNI vehicle might be understandable considering the litter that riders leave behind, but eating pizza at a bus shelter?! Are they out of their minds? What did MUNI have to say about it? Even MUNI spokesman Paul Rose said he didn’t know whether it was OK or not to eat at a bus shelter. The San Francisco Police Department—in what should have been a major embarrassment—could only muster up the following pitiful explanation: “It looks like it was (issued) right after a stabbing in that shelter,” and the officers only wrote the citation to “move him along,” and the police department had received multiple complaints about eating and smoking at that bus stop. While soda tax proponents frequently cite the diabetes “crisis,” we’re not aware of any law against eating per se—at least not yet—and smoking is still legal, so we’re not sure why complaints from busybodies should be a compelling reason to issue a fine to someone who’s not harming anyone (or even himself in this case). Of course the man is very unlikely to have to pay the fine as judges often dismiss the charges, especially for a homeless man unable to pay the ticket, but isn’t this a waste of time, not to mention taxpayer money? Worse still, we’d like to know why crimes with real victims, like murder, assault, house break-ins, car break-ins, and theft, are not being tended to by the police, while officers are wasting time harassing a homeless man with few resources.
This brings us to the Spinning Wheel of Ridiculous San Francisco and California Laws that we introduced at our Pride booth last year. The idea was to highlight to visitors to our booth the breadth and insanity of laws on the books, often unenforced but still there, for police officers to use as needed when they feel like it. They fly completely against the rule of law and make it rule of man. We came up with the following list of illegal actions that could land you in the slammer or result in a substantial fine:
- Sitting on a sidewalk (Section 168 of the SF Police Code)
- Storing a bicycle in a garage (Chapter 6 of the SF Housing Code)
- Burning wood in your fireplace (Reg 6, Rule 3—Bay Area Air Quality Management District)
- Leaving moldy leftovers in your refrigerator (Section 581 (9)-Article 11 of the SF Health Code)
- Giving away free toys in restaurants (Healthy Foods Incentives Ordinance No. 290-10)
- Selling lemonade/cookies or fudge brownies with no permit (Article 6-SF Business/Tax Regulation Code)
- Not separating your trash into 3 curbside containers (Chapter 19 of SF Environment Code)
- Hanging a parrot cage outside your apartment less than 20 feet from the window (Section 37b of SF Health Code)
- Setting your dog outside without full access to an enclosed building at all times (Section 41.12-SF Health Code)
- Giving a young relative a pet rabbit (Section 48a of SF Health Code)
- Walking 4 or more dogs at any one time without a permit (Section 3902-Article 39 of SF Health Code)
- Refusing to allow a master tenant to add roommates to an apartment lease (SF Ordinance 171-15)
We will be at the Pride Fair at Civic Center Plaza once again this June 24 and 25 with our usual extensive collection of freedom-oriented outreach literature, the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, and the Spinning Wheel of Absurd Laws. If the wheel spinner lands on a slot that lists an action that is still legal (last year we only had walking down the street peacefully without a government-issued ID and leading a tour in San Francisco without government permission), he or she wins a fun prize. We purposely made 12 slots as illegal actions and only 2 slots as (still) legal actions to emphasize the proliferation of meddlesome laws into everyday life. The spinning wheel was well received by visitors and amused, surprised, shocked, and occasionally outraged those who took a spin.
We will again be inviting visitors to take a spin this year, and to keep it fun and fresh and still make our point, we are looking to update some of the crazy laws sporadically enforced, so we are inviting our readers to add to our list of laughable laws by suggesting any new ridiculous ones they can find. The trick is to find the applicable ordinance or penal code that makes it illegal. Anyone can google crazy laws and find an amusing list of unbelievable laws on the books, but we want our visitors to know that we didn’t make them up, so listing the ordinance number or code on the spinning wheel is critical for credibility. Believe us, some of the laws are so nutty that we didn’t believe them ourselves without the ordinance or code number. And winding through the byzantine maze of laws on the books—it’s harder than you think. Please email us at [email protected] with any suggestions for additions to our spinning wheel (with the applicable ordinance or code number), and we’ll be happy to send you one of our fun and provocative posters for your efforts. And don’t forget to drop by our booth at the Pride Fair on the last weekend of June to browse, chat, and take a spin yourself!