Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Without A Vote?

An easy-to-miss item in today's Post-Gazette revealed the following:

Proposed new rules restricting where bars and restaurants serving alcohol can locate in Pittsburgh took effect yesterday, though City Council members are not likely to vote on them until February or March.

Councilman Jeff Koch's ordinance barring new liquor licensees from opening within 150 feet of any more than two existing licensees in neighborhood business districts was referred by council to the city planning commission for review.

The ordinance must go through public hearings before the commission and council, then survive two council votes and consideration by the mayor before becoming part of the city code.

But zoning administrator Jeremy Smith said city code requires that his department use the most stringent existing or proposed law to judge requests for zoning approval. That means Mr. Koch's proposal took effect around 1:30 p.m. yesterday, when council referred it to the commission.

It will continue to be enforced unless council rejects the measure, Mr. Smith said.
Is this the way it really works on Grant Street? Please, somebody tell me that it isn't so!

My complaint isn't about the proposed zoning rule itself. Instead, I am far more concerned with this notion that zoning rules take effect before our elected representatives on City Council ever get to vote on them. Can that really be true?

If so, then what exactly is in place to prevent a city council member from proposing rules that declare the member's own home to be a religious institution and thus exempt from property tax? Or zoning rules which require the member's next door neighbor to cut down a tree that the member's spouse never really liked? Or a regulation banning the neighborhood cat who continually shits in the member's flower garden from living within the city limits? Or perhaps even a rule that requires all city council members to be addressed only as "Dear Leader" by members of the peasantry?

I never realized that members of our City Council had such power. It would seem that, at least with zoning rules, they could (in theory) propose a rule, submit it to the zoning commission for review, have it take effect more or less immediately by that action alone, and then delay any council votes on the measure for as along as possible. Given the molasses-like speed at which City Council operates, such a delay would be fairly easy to achieve. This rule makes each member of council, in essence, a little mini-dictator when it comes to zoning regulations.

I suspect that my home will be seized and turned into "People's Re-Education Camp" for wayward bloggers in the near future. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.


Judge Rufus Peckham said...

That is really nutty -- I never heard of this rule before. I suppose it will require some patent abuse to muster enough public outcry to change it.

Judge Rufus Peckham

Richmond K. Turner said...

Wow, my first comment! And from the Carbolic Smoke Ball, no less. I am so proud!