Public Safety, Sidewalks and Busybody Government

Monday night, 4 St. Cloud City Council members voted to require that sidewalks be built in neighborhoods that don’t already have them. The asterisk is that this won’t happen until that block’s streets are torn up to install upgrades to the city’s sewer and water systems. The other notable asterisk is that this won’t add a penny in assessments to the property owners.

That said, it’s terrible public policy.

First, I’ll say that I live on a block that doesn’t have a public sidewalk. I’m definitely biased. Mine is definitely a low traffic part of town. It’s worth noting that I’ve lived in my current home for 50 years. It’s noteworthy because, in all that time, we’ve never had any public safety issues in our neighborhood.

Last night, I spoke with Mayor Kleis about the issue at the weekly gathering for Ox in the Afternoon listeners. When I asked him for a justification for this requirement, one of his responses was that sidewalks are just part of the price of living in cities. I’d respectfully disagree. Prior to Monday night’s vote, they really weren’t.

There’s no question that they were a potential cost. Prior to Monday night’s vote, however, it was the city’s responsibility to prove why installing sidewalks were necessary. Prior to Monday night’s vote, the city had to hold public hearings where that block’s citizens frequently spoke out against installing sidewalks. From the city’s standpoint, it was a messy process that should be avoided at all costs.

Thanks to Monday night’s vote, the city got its wish. Sort of.

Another rationalization for requiring the sidewalks was that we’re already required to mow the law that is the city’s right of way. That’s something I can’t dispute. That said, that isn’t a persuasive argument. In fact, that’s one of the flimsiest public policy arguments I’ve ever heard.

From the city’s standpoint, upkeep is upkeep. All property owners’ responsibilities are equal in their eyes. Nothing is further from reality. Making 2 passes with a lawnmower on a beautiful summer day isn’t the burden for a property owner than shovelling a foot of wet snow is in February. To think that they’re equal in terms of physical exertion is foolish.

This is one of the most foolish public policy statements I’ve ever heard:

Council President Jeff Goerger said the city will continue to consider how sidewalks will impact trees and driveway access before they are put in.

“We represent all the citizens of St. Cloud,” Georger said. “We have to ask ‘Are sidewalks important to this community as a whole? Are they a benefit to this community as a whole?’”

I expect one-size-fits-all policies from the federal government. I expect custom-tailored solutions from the city council.

What’s particularly bothersome is the fact that Georger isn’t asking the right question. There are tons of things that theoretically make sense from community-as-a-whole standpoint that don’t make any sense from a is-it-right-for-this-situation standpoint.

The question Mayor Kleis didn’t address was what problem this fixes. There aren’t any public safety issues that this will fix, at least not on the east side of town. It adds to government’s intrusion into my life in terms of requiring me to shovel snow on a sidewalk I don’t own or want.

Finally, what’s inexplicable is that Mayor Kleis has a lengthy history of keeping government intrusion limited. It doesn’t make sense that he’s now supporting an ordinance that’s this intrusive in people’s lives.

Comments welcome at Let Freedom Ring.