If you ever walk, run or stroll down the streets of this city, you will find out very quickly many Mobilians like to throw lots of things out of their cars and/or pockets and/or purses and/or shopping bags.
Miniature bottles, cigarette butts, poopy diapers accompanied by poop-covered wipes, empty pill and cough syrup bottles, fast food bags stuffed with so many napkins you know the person who stuffed said bag with said napkins did not pay for them, bloody gauze pads and Band-Aids (yep, I’ve seen it), receipts, stray shoes longing for their mates, empty chip bags, synthetic hair, soda bottles, candy wrappers, scratched up CDs, Styrofoam cups and food containers, lost homework, latex gloves and birth control also of the latex variety can easily be found lining our streets and waterways, among other really weird things that make you go “Hmmmm?” or “Ewwww!” or “What is that? No, it can’t be. Oh, but it is.”
Perhaps we should open a weird litter museum in the Cruise Terminal. (Hey, they turned the world’s largest ball of twine into a tourist attraction. If Cawker City, Kan., can do it, why can’t we?)
Seriously though, I hate litter and the bugs who toss it out into our beautiful city. I have just never understood how people could be raised to think it is even remotely acceptable to throw poopy pants or cigarette butts out onto the street, as if it all just magically disappears into thin air upon release.
So it was very pleasing to my ears to hear Mayor Sandy Stimpson while he was out on the campaign trail and after being elected vow to clean up this city.
Once he got in office he began his “war on litter” by adding teeth to the existing litter ordinance. The enforcement of said teeth began on Oct. 1 and included the following provisions:
• No keeping of junk vehicles. Owner of property and tenant may be held responsible.
• All commercial properties — including businesses, industrial, institutions, multi family (apartments) and residential premises — must be kept free of litter, trash, junk, high grass and weeds. This includes adjacent areas like parking lots, loading and unloading areas, rights of way, and grounds and includes vacant or “unimproved real property.” Both owner and tenants may be held responsible.
• Cigarette butts must be properly disposed.
• Commercial properties must add garbage and cigarette receptacles near their entrances, employee smoking areas and common pedestrian transition points.
• Signs cannot be placed on trees, utility poles or on rights of way.
• Businesses will also be expected to build enclosures or fences around their dumpsters by March 1.
• Residences will also be expected to keep their yards and rights of way free of litter, trash and high grass and weeds.
The fines start at $250 and range up to $500.
An excellent start, but one that has not come without some controversy.
Some commercial property and home owners have already complained this penalizes the owners and not the source of the problem: the people who are actually littering.
And those concerns are absolutely valid.
I know when my husband and I once lived on a busy “cut through street” that kids ventured down on their way to and from school, we would get home just about every day from August to May to find empty Cheetos and M & M bags in our yard. My husband’s blood would boil and there would be some old man get-off-my-lawn-sounding commentary about how these kids today have no respect and are not taught to know any better. I would sing “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be litterbugs” as he picked up Mountain Dew bottles. (I didn’t really, but now that song is stuck in my head.)
But I have to wonder even though we cleaned up the junk food wrapper explosion in our yard the moment we got home from work every day, would we have been at risk of being fined if enforcement officers came by at say 4 p.m.?
Goodness gracious. Candy wrapper carcasses AND a ticket for litter that isn’t yours. Talk about blood boiling.
And I’m sure commercial property and apartment owners and managers have similar concerns. How do you control the public — many of whom have proven themselves to be disgusting pigs — 24 hours, 7 days a week?
If some jackleg throws his late night sackful of discarded Krystal boxes out in your parking lot at 3 a.m., could you be at risk of being slapped with a fine before you have a chance to clean it up?
Obviously, we definitely want to make sure the right people (i.e. the littering jacklegs) are being punished, but property owners do have an obligation to keep their homes and businesses tidy as well. The enforcement just has to be reasonable.
But what is reasonable enforcement, you ask?
As long as we don’t have a similar situation to the Great Downtown Parking Nazi Fiasco of 2009, where “parking diplomats” were stalking meters and handing out tickets in a completely unreasonable, insanely overzealous fashion, I think we will be fine.
In other words, we don’t want these officers purposefully “stalking dumpsters” (I’m going to name my next band that) waiting for a single napkin to fly out, so they can scratch out a $500 ticket the millisecond it hits the ground.
Good judgment has to be used.
And it should become obvious to these enforcement officers which property owners are trying to do everything they can to stay in compliance and which ones are absentee deadbeats who are not. Hopefully, only the latter will be targeted and a little leeway will be granted to the former.
After all, we are trying to become the safest, cleanest AND most business-friendly city in America by 2020. We can’t achieve one goal at the expense of another.
But with that said, we are all going to have to be more vigilant about reporting people who we see littering on our own properties or anywhere else for that matter. If their mamas didn’t teach them not to grow up to be litterbugs, we are going to have to come together as a community and re-educate them ourselves.