As many of you are aware, Bellevue Council will be voting to approve a new burning ordinance during a special meeting next Tuesday night (May 22). In order to not be kept in the dark, as many on council would prefer us peasants be, I requested and received a copy of the proposed ordinance. I spent the past couple of days reading and re-reading the proposed ordinance and have many concerns about it (each concern will be a separate post to come over the next few days).
My #1 concern about the newly proposed ordinance is the cost of violating its proposed terms. The proposed ordinance states, “No person shall allow or maintain a fire which creates excessive smoke, odor, or malodorous emissions.” And the punishment for a conviction of maintaining a fire that creates “excessive smoke, odor, or malodorous emissions?” $1000 fine and/or 30 days in prison!!!!
Imagine with me you are hanging out in your backyard with some friends around small fire pit. You’re enjoying a few drinks, chowing down on some great eats, having a grand old time, however, your neighbor, who has openly expressed that he doesn’t think too highly of you, decides he wants to put an end to your good time. Lucky for him, he knows that Bellevue council has approved an ambiguous new ordinance regulating backyard fires, so he calls the police and accuses you of maintaining a fire that produces “excessive odor and smoke” and demands it be put out. The police respond and can tell you’re all having a bit of fun. Perhaps a couple people have had one too many drinks. Nothing illegal is going on, you’re all private citizens enjoying a good time on private property, but your neighbor is annoyed by you so the police want to “keep the peace.”
What are the police likely to do in a situation like this? Who are they to claim that what your neighbor smells is NOT excessive odor and smoke? Who are they to define what is and is not excessive? Before you know it, the police are demanding that you put the fire out and charge you with being in violation of this new vague ordinance. Some time later you’re in court defending yourself but without the benefit of any substantial evidence in your favor. The judge convicts you as being in violation of the ordinance and just like that you’re out $1000 and possibly even spending the next 30 days in prison all because your neighbor is annoyed by you and you were having too much fun on your private property.
I understand the desire to protect the health and welfare of our community through regulating the smoke that might blow into our neighbors’ homes from our small open fires (I don’t think an ordinance is necessary, but I understand the heart behind it). However, if there’s going to be anything like a $1000 fine or 30 days in prison as a result of violating a new ordinance, there better be definite clear guidelines on how violations of the said ordinance are to be determined. One person’s interpretation of “excessive smoke or odor” is not the same as another persons and all it takes is one phone call for you or I to be in prison or out $1000!
End the tyranny Bellevue Council! Don’t vote to approve the new burning ordinance at least until enough time has been given to consider the consequences of your actions!