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Editorial: City of Sonoma cracks down on unruly animals, people

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Respite is on the way for Sonomans dodging leaf blower fumes, cigarettes smoke or public urinating – god help those caught in a perfect storm of all three – as the City of Sonoma is tightening up its enforcement of “fleeting violations,” those minor code infractions that are temporal in nature, but annoying as all get out.

The Sonoma City Council voted unanimously Sept. 5 to give local code enforcement officers the proper “tools” to issue citations for such infractions. And by “tools” to issue citations, they literally mean paper citations to issue. Until now, enforcement had largely been education – as in, “Hey, buddy, stop that – and don’t do it again.”

The full list of fleeting violations is available at sonomacity.org, but they’re largely what you’d expect: drinking in public, riding a bike on the sidewalk, being too noisy, someone’s dog biting people, etc. Other no-no’s of which residents may not be aware include “keeping livestock,” “tethering in a public place,” “hindering emergency operations” and “dog license secure to collar.”

Members of the City Council have long worried about the ability to enforce such fleeting violations – and they weren’t half right about that. In an “educational” enforcement model, an officer approaches some guy smoking in the Plaza rose garden, informs him that it’s against city code and asks him to put out the cigarette – and he obligingly stamps out what’s left of his Winston. (The scenario changes significantly with violations like “animal waste,” but we’ll leave that to the officer, Bowser and his companion to sort out.)

Problem with these “fleeting violations,” though, is by their very nature, the officer likely got to the scene after the bulk of the violation has long since fleeted. In other words, they flaunted city code and got away with it. It’s practically an invitation for residents to not secure a dog license to Mimi’s collar; it’s all but daring Sonomans to tether their llamas to the spider bike rack.

Ever wonder why your neighbors are constantly hindering emergency operations? It’s because they can, Sonoma.

Until now.

Because now the enforcement officers will issue actual citations – real paper tickets, folks – to livestock-keeping scofflaws and handbill-posting hooligans. The fines have changed and now have lower ceilings of between $10 and $100 for a first offense, depending on the nature of the violation – prepare to pony up, “vicious dog” owners – with the costs ratcheting up after multiple offenses.

If you’re wondering why the city enforcement officer wasn’t armed with paper tickets until now, it’s a valid question. Though no one would blame a code enforcer from wanting to avoid the kind of face-to-face confrontations that arise from fining people for minor offenses. After all, there’s a reason that parking ticket was left under your windshield wiper when you were nowhere to be seen. Still, it makes sense for the officer to have that ticketing tool in his or her arsenal.

In Ambrose Bierce’s “The Devil’s Dictionary,” the 19th century writer defined “misdemeanor” as, “An infraction of the law having less dignity than a felony and constituting no claim to admittance in the best criminal society.”

That, and $25, should be enough to keep Sonoma from riding its bikes on the sidewalk.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.