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An incensed reader made the following  comments that cannot be ignored, especially with this very important election underway:

  •  I was told the front of your house was a pit and when you took you case to court YOU LOST!

Someone asked me if the Farmers Branch Municipal Court was a “Real” Court, or a “Kangaroo” Court. At the time I was not familiar with that term. Now I am. I’m not going to say, but I did get a chance to sneak a photograph of the judge and the city’s attorney. It turned out like this:

Now, it is true that I took my case to court and I lost. I lost big time. If anyone has ever tried to defend himself in Farmers Branch municipal court he knows that the cards are stacked against him. If you cannot afford a lawyer (as I cannot) you get to sit there and listen to all kinds of misinformation and allegations and opinions and accusations directed toward you. And there’s very little, if anything, you can do about it.

 But – that is my burden: I tried – I failed. I thought that 6 citizens of Farmers Branch would realize how Code Enforcement, and the Farmers Branch Municipal Court, treats people, and they would sympathize. I was wrong.

What really bothers me about Beverly’s statement is that there were only a very few people who knew about the details that she “heard”. Even the jury did not know all the details that Beverly knew. In fact, the only people who would have a vested interest were two guys who wanted my support for a city council election. I told them I was not interested in helping them to continue the harassment and shoddy treatment of decent citizens.

Either way, Beverly doesn’t know me, and as far as I know she has never even driven by my home. So, for her edification I will later publish a post complete with a tour and photographs of  “The Pit”. That will come later in another post, as I have a lot more to talk about in this one.

Oh – Beverly has not one, but two, candidate signs in her front yard. If you’re wondering what that has to do with anything – consider Beverly’s next statement:

  • I heard Brenda Broderick has had 20 code violations on her 17 houses, if so I don’t see that she is setting a good example for other citizens.

Brenda has owned rental homes for several years. I don’t know how long, and how many. I hear 17 homes, and 20 violations so I’m going to run with that. I did look up the Code Violation records for the past 18 months, and found that Brenda had 2 violations in that time period. One was for a Real Estate sign that was too close to the curb, and one was for trash that was placed out too early – by hours, not days. So, for 18 months Brenda’s homes were in compliance. All 17 of them.  No complaints, even though homes around hers received violation notices (Code Enforcement loves to troll those neighborhoods).

Then, suddenly, in the last days before the City Council election, but just in time for her opponent’s supporters to compose a campaign mailer, get it printed, and send it out, she was slapped with not 1, but 20 Violations: spread out among 17 properties. She won’t divulge a lot of detail except to say that they were all very minor, and as soon as she was notified she had them remedied. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that most were addressed before the citizens even got the nasty mailer. The fact is: not one of those violations compromised anyone’s health, safety, welfare, or property values.

I’m not going to guess who complained about her homes, or if Code Enforcement just “happened upon them” during one of their neighborhood blitzes. I could probably look up the data and make an educated guess, but that is not the point.

So – who is setting a good example for other citizens …. the guy who takes advantage of someone else’s misfortune, or the person who remedies a problem immediately – even knowing full-well that that problem was most likely politically motivated and unfair.

  • If the city does not have code enforcement and enforce those laws, property values will decline.

You don’t want to get me started here. The truth of the matter is that even though Code Enforcement has been “aggressively enforcing strict compliance” for several years the property values in Farmers Branch have declined … and declined, and declined. This year we set the record for Dallas county and the surrounding areas. For those citizens who don’t bother to read the news: The record for decline in property values for this year alone is held by Farmers Branch, with 11% DECLINE. That is this year alone. I expect more will come. And I expect that a lot of that decline will be due to the fact that The Word is getting out about Farmers Branch.

Anyone with even half a brain can look at that data and know there is no correlation between grass in driveway cracks and property values. The only thing that the City is getting from terrorising decent citizens is the money they generate from fines.

If you want to live in a community that is governed by an HOA that is your business, because you know the rules when you move in. Farmers Branch continues to restrict every single thing the residents can do – and surprises us with new rules after we are already here. That is much worse than any Homeowners Association.

  • I own a home here and I don’t want trashy homes in my neighborhood. I don’t like looking at eyesores.

Trashy Homes – right. There are very few, if any, trashy homes in Farmers Branch. I can’t think of one off-hand. There are some people who are a little more creative with the yard decorations than suit my taste, but that is really none of my business. Besides: who cares … to me an eyesore is rows upon rows of sterile homes that look like no one lives there. Or at least if they do they don’t go outside much. I guess they’re afraid of mussing their pristine yards. God forbid your own home would look lived-in.

I was reading a Home and Garden magazine that had pictures of some homes that Beverly would probably consider “trashy”, as they had some areas with some very creative yard art. The caption stated that those homes made you want to stop and meet the owners, that they were probably very interesting people.

I agree. When you drive by the sterile McMansions in Frisco, or Colleyville, or Plano do any of those grab you – do any of them say “Hey – I’m fun, I’m quirky, I’m interesting”? Or do you just drive by. Ho Hum.

Beverly doesn’t like looking at whatever she thinks are eyesores: I don’t like looking at boring homes.

  • If you cannot maintain your home properly, then you should not be a home owner. 

Maintain your home Properly? What does that mean? According to the standards of someone you don’t even know? Someone who you probably wouldn’t even want to know? Does proper home maintainance mean you can’t enjoy being outside? Is it improper to store a pitchfork by your compost pile? Is it improper to have 6 decorative items in your front yard? Is it improper to have whatever furniture you want on your own covered front porch?

I’ll tell you what’s improper – it’s judging others by your own ignorant standards. If you want your home to be truly pristine there are plenty of communities with Home Owners’ Associations. Go live there. Leave the rest of us alone to enjoy our privacy.

But – don’t worry – The City will keep an eye on you; especially if you get old, or sick, or lose your job. They will watch and watch, and when you are not able to “maintain” your home to their ever-more restrictive standards they will take care of you. They will help you to move into a nice little “affordable living” compound. There, isn’t that much nicer than the home you lived in all those years – the big house with the nice big yard? Hey – we’ll take care of the old homestead for you. We’ll  bulldoze it to put in a park or make room for a McMansion in the hopes that someone more upscale and desirable than you will want to move to the City in the Park someday. At least you don’t have to worry your little old sick poor head about it, right? What a relief.

  •  I manage to keep my yard and home in pristine condition. 

I’ll not dwell on this, as you all have seen my response earlier. The fact is, there is absolutely no way anyone can maintain their homes to Farmers Branch Code Enforcement standards. Especially if you disagree with the Code Enforcement person’s OPINION of what is right and what is wrong. Yes – I said OPINION. If the Code Enforcement person doesn’t LIKE what you have, then it is wrong. And there is nothing you can do about it, except roll over and submit like a good little Sheepizen.

Or – wait – maybe you can do something. You can vote for Brenda Brodrick. We have to get the loonies who are tearing our city down OUT of office. When they go all their hangers-on will go too. The folks who troll the streets looking for minor violations. The folks who will never be happy – no matter what the situation. The folks who are preying on the decent citizens of Farmers Branch.

Your vote for Brenda is the right start. Stand up for yourself.

Whew – what a lot of information; and misinformation; has come out in the past few days. Let’s take a moment to discuss.

Although BJ – in my earlier post “PROPERTY RIGHTS in Farmers Branch” – is a fictional character composed of ideas from various emails and comments, the person who judges others by her own strict and unreasonable standards is very real here in The City in the Park. As I described BJ:

 BJ is the conscience of The City in the Park. BJ will tell you what is nice and what is naughty. BJ can legislate through the telephone and email. BJ has the City Manager’s number on speed dial. If BJ doesn’t like it – Thou Shalt Not have it.

And therein lies our problem. One person decided that this character hit very close to home – and took offense, and retaliated by spewing nonsense. I could have deleted her comments, but the whole point of this blog is to demonstrate what is really going on in this nice little “Small Town Community”.

Incidentally, in case you are wondering, I do not delete any comment unless it is Spam, and my Spam filter does that for me. I don’t edit anything; I encourage free and open discussion. And that’s the point – this is not an avenue for sanitized propaganda. I sincerely believe that most of the residents of Farmers Branch do not fully realize what has been happening for the past few years. Many people are fortunate enough to have escaped scrutiny by the Enforcers – so far.

Remember the old saying – that “to make an omelet you have to break some eggs”? Well,  broken eggs are everywhere now. And maybe the citizens, and the voters, and the decent folks in Farmers Branch, will see and heed.

So – let’s discuss the situation.

The woman who objected to my post probably feels violated. And rightly so. So did I when I found that Code Enforcement was judging my own private space. Judging by their own biased and narrow standards. Interpreting the law by opinion and personal preference. Litigating from the truck. And there was not a darned thing you can do about it. That is why, when she bragged about her pristine home, I just had to go and demonstrate how, as nice as it looks while driving by – it will not pass our ProActive and Innovative Code Enforcement scrutiny. No one’s home can …. no one’s. And, were any of her violations detrimental to the Health, Safety, or Welfare of the citizens of Farmers Branch? Oh my no. Few are. In fact, the City is less interested in your Health and Safety than they are about appearances. Appearances judged by others.

Because that is the whole point of the Farmers Branch Code Enforcement’s Pro Active and Innovative initiative. As I stated time and time again: I am not opposed to City Standards. We all have to live close to each other, we all want to be proud to live in our neighborhood. There have to be some standards for everyone to get along by. But when those standards are created for the sole purpose of targeting and harassing selected residents, when they are enforced by people who trespass on your private property so that they can nit-pick your private business to pieces because they don’t want you around – then I have a problem with that. And every single citizen of this great country should too. Our United States Constitution guarantees the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And our right to privacy.

When a reader declared on this site that her home was pristine, and that anyone who could not keep their homes in the same pristine condition did not deserve to own a home, well, I wondered if that person had any idea what she was talking about. For if you read the Farmers Branch Code of Ordinances you know that there is no home – NOT ONE – that could possibly comply. The Codes are written that way and they are enforced that way. Anyone who doesn’t believe that the Codes are used as a weapon against selected individuals is naive.

The reader mentioned the 20 Code Violation Notices that Brenda Brodrick recently received on her 17 rental properties. Well now, isn’t the timing of these violation notices interesting? Am I the only one who wonders why, after years of owning rental properties, she got TWENTY violations just days before an election where she was running for City Council? Coincidence? Yeah – right. Whoever believes that, please raise your hand.

All you others who think your own home is “pristine”, and that only criminal elements are decreasing your property values – I want you to do something. Walk outside; look around.

  • Is there a tree stump in your yard? There are many in Brookhaven – I know where most of them are. That is a code violation.
  • Is there a shovel in your yard? That is a code violation.
  • Do you have an empty flower-pot anywhere outside …. anywhere? That is a code violation.
  • Do you have a little edged area in your yard, perhaps around a tree, with ivy growing in it? Does the ivy spill over the edge of the little area? That is a code violation.
  • Do you recycle – is your recycling container outside? Do you have a rain barrel? Those are code violations.
  • Are there more than 5 decorative items in your front yard? That is a code violation.
  • Is there a broom or mop on your front porch? That is a code violation.
  • Is there a rug drying outside on anything other than a clothesline? That is a code violation.
  • Is one of your fence posts taller than the others? That is a code violation.
  • Does your gate match the rest of your fence – in appearance as well as construction? There are many of those in Farmers Branch, especially Brookhaven. That is a code violation.
  • Does your front door have a screen? No? … well that is a code violation.

And don’t think that just because the offending items are not visible from the street that you are off the hook. That’s what I thought. If a Code Enforcement goon can see it from a neighbor’s yard, from the alley, from a rooftop, from the sky – it is a Code Violation. And there’s not a damned thing you can do about it.

But hey – it’s not all oppressive. Do you know what is NOT a Code Violation? You can skin a deer, duck, or bunny rabbit in Farmers Branch, as long as you do it behind the bushes, for The Code says:

“The cleaning, skinning and processing of game shall be screened from view from public streets and all resulting waste shall be disposed of in a sanitary manner.”

When you get through being hauled into court and fined for all your mops and decorative items you will need to know this. And don’t think it won’t happen to you. It will …. as soon as the City gets rid of the other undesirables.

They’ll get to you eventually.

Vote For Brenda Brodrick for City Council Place 4

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, I’m going to remind people why I created this blog in the first place. It all started when I received a violation notice. I was a bit confused, as the notice stated that my outside furniture was not suitable. So, being a good citizen as well as an engineer, I tried to consult the Code of Ordinances to find exactly what non-suitable meant, as the furniture in question was undoubtably outdoor furniture. And I know, because I had finished it myself, and I come from a long line of furniture refinishers. I know what I’m talking about when it comes to furniture.

The first problem was, I could not find the darned Code. I looked and looked and looked on the Award-Winning Website. Finally, after a couple of hours, I did locate it.

Whoa – I’ve read some awful documents before, but this one took the prize. It was confusing, it was vague, it was frustrating, it was everything a legal document should not be. So, being a concerned citizen, and an engineer, and out of work, I thought I’d volunteer my time to clean all of that up so that the fine citizens of Farmers Branch could work together to make their city nice and desirable. After all, I have lived here for over 30 years, and I kind of enjoyed being here, and I wanted others to feel the same way. I wasn’t sure who to contact about my proposal, but I stumbled on a newsletter that Kathleen Matsumura sends out. She seemed to know what to do, so I emailed her to ask for her advice. She published my email in her newsletter. Jim Olk was not, um, receptive to my offer to help, and now you know where all that lead.

Because this happened well over a year ago, and I have many many new readers, I thought it would be a good idea to post the original correspondence. Here goes:

The first letter, written by me, and published in Kathleen Matsumura’s web news:

Subject: State of the City
I am excited for the opportunity to do something constructive to help this city. I’ve lived here “forever,” and I hate to see the way it is going right now. Hopefully, we can steer our city back to the wonderful neighbor-friendly place it needs to be.
 
I am a Process Engineer and have worked with major military and defense contractors for many years. A significant part of my job was to author concise, factual and enforceable procedures and other documentation, so I appreciate the significance of properly written legal documents. Upon reading the city codes I see many errors, misinformation and missing details. I had toyed with the idea of volunteering my services to clean these up, but was not certain how to approach the correct parties. I have been speaking to my neighbors. Several have received code violation warnings. In addition to warnings for violations of codes that don’t exist, some of them are for storage in fenced backyards, out of view of the overly-sensitive citizens of Farmers Branch.

I created a spreadsheet to list the quick “Hit Sheet” violations with references to the applicable codes. In many cases there are no codes addressing alleged violations, in others the code is significantly different from the description on the Hit List. I still would like to know exactly what the city submitted as the award-winning, creative, innovative Proactive Code Enforcement entry to win that award. If they meant using the canned software: that’s stale, and their system is badly in need of a talented geek.
 
What I would expect like to see is a city that we can be proud of. But I cannot tolerate being treated like little children who need to be scolded and punished.

Jim Olk’s Response:

Ms. Matsumura,

I was forwarded an email that contained the following “Commentary” and thought it important enough to send a reply.

The City’s Code Enforcement Program has received numerous recognitions with the most recent, a national recognition of excellence for innovation in local government. The City’s Code Enforcement Program is a dynamic proactive program that uses property condition surveys combined with performance measures and proactive code enforcement to respond to changing conditions in the City. Since 1995 the City has routinely surveyed housing and property conditions to get an overall snapshot of the condition of the City. Using the survey results and performance measures the program dynamically increases the intensity of proactive patrols in neighborhoods that reflect downward trends in property maintenance and appearance. The program’s success is reflected in improved housing and property conditions in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in Farmers Branch. The basic premise of using property condition surveys, strategic planning, performance measures and proactive code enforcement, developed by the City of Farmers Branch, is nationally recognized as a best practice model for code enforcement programs. (Chapter 18 of the Building Department Administration 3rd Edition published by the International Code Council)

Ms. Holmes refers to a “Hit Sheet” and enforcement of “codes that don’t exist”. I can assure you that all correction notices that are sent out to the residents of Farmers Branch are backed by ordinances or codes that address those issues. We have over 100 case types in our code enforcement tracking system and those just cover the basic violations that are found around the City. There are thousands of violations or issues that are covered by the City’s adopted codes and regulations and all of them address the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Farmers Branch as well as the general public.

For the 14 years that I have worked for the City of Farmers Branch, I have been impressed with the foresight that each of the City Councils’ have possessed with regards to the maintaining property values and the importance of proactive property maintenance. I truly feel had they not had that foresight the City would have slum or blighted neighborhoods in Farmers Branch rather than the desired living environment that is currently enjoyed.

If Ms. Holmes or any resident of Farmers Branch has questions regarding our code enforcement program, I would encourage them to contact me at 972-919-2533 or jim.olk@farmersbranch.info  `I am always looking for ways to make the program more effective or more efficient.

My Rebuttal:

Mr. Olk,

The elected members of a City Council are trusted to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the city who elected them. What I am seeing is a group of persons who have lost track of the fact that this city is comprised of individual human beings, with distinct families, hopes, dreams, and ideas. Farmers Branch has always been a middle-class community and that is the very reason that most of us chose to live here. But it appears that a few people have decided that we want to be something we’re not, and the way to achieve that is by bullying everyone to comply with many rules that, quite frankly, appear to have been devised by a group with other than the community health, safety and welfare in mind. Perhaps I am wrong, and I would be happy if I were, but perception is important, and from what I am hearing from my neighbors the perception is that the City Council has taken Code Enforcement tactics to an unprecedented low.

The following are my replies to your statements (your statements in bold italics):

  • Ms. Holmes refers to a “Hit Sheet” and enforcement of “codes that don’t exist”. I can assure you that all correction notices that are sent out to the residents of Farmers Branch are backed by ordinances or codes that address those issues.

The Farmers Branch City Code is very difficult to find on the website, and even harder to interpret.

As I stated in my commentary, the “Hit List” is rife with misleading statements, which lead to misunderstanding, frustration, distrust, and, ultimately, push-back.

For instance, the “Hit List” encourages people to complain about weeds and grass that are over 8” tall (Section 56-81) yet Section 34-287 of the code states:

Sec. 34-287.  Unsightly weeds and vegetation.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person owning, claiming, occupying or having supervision or control of any real property, occupied or unoccupied, within the corporate limits of the city, to permit grass, weeds or brush to grow to a greater height than 12 inches upon any such real property, or allow any objectionable or unsightly matter to remain upon such property.Furthermore, this section goes on to state that:

(b)   All vegetation not regularly cultivated and which exceeds 12 inches in height shall be presumed to be objectionable and unsightly, except that regularly cultivated crops will not be allowed to grow within the right-of-way of any public street or easement but shall be kept mowed the same as provided in subsection (a) of this section.      (Code 1969, § 17-100)Am I to read that regularly cultivated crops are not allowed to grow over 12 inches tall? That will be disturbing to anyone who wants to cultivate a Victory Garden containing corn or tomatoes.

…. Or is that only crops that I grow in the right-of-way of any public street or easement?

By the way: what is the right-of-way of any public street or easement? Where is that defined … in a manner that the layman can understand?

Let’s go on to the Front Yard. (Again, I cannot find a definitive description of “Front, Back, and Side” Yards.) The Hit List says:

Items in the Front Yard

Too many statutes, (sic) bird baths, lawn furniture, flower pots with no or dead plants or other items in the front yard of a home.  After a long and arduous list of permitted and non-permitted items The Code comes down to:

The maximum number of objects or items of either lawn furniture or freestanding statuary permitted in residential front yards at any one time shall not exceed five, and that the total area such objects may occupy shall be limited to a maximum of 100 square feet.

Now, the phrase “either lawn furniture or freestanding statuary” is the catch here. According to Wikipedia, statuary is plural for statue, which is defined as:

A statue is a sculpture in the round representing a person or persons, an animal, or an event, normally full-length, as opposed to a bust, and at least close to life-size, or larger.

[1]Its primary concern is representational.

In addition, the idea that statues are considered separately from other items is reinforced in the city code because the code takes the trouble to distinguish “statuaries” from lawn ornaments  such as columns, bird baths and pedestals, in this portion of the same section:

(2)   Freestanding statuaries, columns, bird baths and pedestals not exceeding 72 inches in height.

Therefore, the entire sentence, after getting rid of the gobbledygook – can be interpreted thusly:

“You are allowed a maximum of either 5 items of furniture, or 5 statues” – no mention of anything else. Yet the Hit List encourages citizens to complain about anything and everything in a person’s front yard that is not a tree, bush, or flower: and those can be complained about elsewhere.

Besides the pesky details of interpretation, I would like to know how more than 5 items of lawn furniture or whatever are detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens. Please explain.

While we’re on the subject of front yards: where is that definition? I suppose it’s layered in some reference manual tucked away at City Hall: I’m going to guess Building Department Administration 3rd Edition published by the International Code Council.

In fact, I see that many of the codes reference adoption of some standard, which is fine, but where can the average citizen obtain this information? How can WE be proactive, or is that only for the governing bodies? Are we to run down to City Hall and borrow a Reference Book every time a picket falls off our fence, or when a grandkid proudly presents us with a flower-pot?

  • We have over 100 case types in our code enforcement tracking system and those just cover the basic violations that are found around the City. There are thousands of violations or issues that are covered by the City’s adopted codes and regulations and all of them address the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Farmers Branch as well as the general public.

Wow! Over 100 “basic” case types, and thousands of violations or issues? I’ll check with other cities, but this seems awfully excessive. Perhaps we are being a bit too sensitive.

In fact, 48% of the citizens say there is no change in the community, even after Code Enforcement stepped up their efforts. (Reference “No Place Like Home” by Karen Olsson: May 2008 issue of The Texas Monthly, which notes that 9,724 violation notices were issued last year in a city of 8,000 single-family homes).

Could it be maybe, just maybe, the citizens themselves are doing a good job – in spite of the aggressive bullying tactics?

  • The City’s Code Enforcement Program has received numerous recognitions with the most recent, a national recognition of excellence for innovation in local government.”

I hear about all the awards being bestowed upon the city – but none of the details: How did WE earn the “national recognition of excellence for innovation in local government”? What is it the City Council is telling other organizations about OUR city? It is our right to know.

  • The City’s Code Enforcement Program is a dynamic proactive program that uses property condition surveys combined with performance measures and proactive code enforcement to respond to changing conditions in the City.
  • Since 1995 the City has routinely surveyed housing and property conditions to get an overall snapshot of the condition of the City. Using the survey results and performance measures the program dynamically increases the intensity of proactive patrols in neighborhoods that reflect downward trends in property maintenance and appearance.

Your response cites surveys and performance measures. Where is that data? The only survey on the website is a random telephone survey: the 2008 Citizen Satisfaction Survey.

The intent of the 2008 survey was described thusly: “The City of Farmers Branch was interested in determining citizen attitudes, opinions and needs in order to assist the city in developing policy, budget and service decisions.” 

While most of the questions dealt with opinions of the library; parks and recreation; streets; quality of street sweeping services; police, fire, and ambulance services; garbage collection; recycling; and communication (media services) there were a couple of pertinent points:

  • A majority of respondents said that tall weeds/grass, abandoned vehicles, graffiti and dilapidated buildings were not a problem in their neighborhood
  • Respondents were split on whether their neighborhood looks better today than it did one year ago. (48% said it looks better while 48% said it looks the same).

Lacking data that shows that the citizens considered these things to be problems in the past, how can these observations lead to the conclusion that “These statistics indicate the Code Enforcement Department is doing a good job at controlling these problems.”?

  • Since 1995 the City has routinely surveyed housing and property conditions to get an overall snapshot of the condition of the City. Using the survey results and performance measures the program dynamically increases the intensity of proactive patrols in neighborhoods that reflect downward trends in property maintenance and appearance.

Although I appreciate the fact that the city hired a professional market research organization to conduct and interpret the survey I will withhold my opinion, except to point out that a survey is only as effective as the questions asked, the sampling of persons responding, and the correct interpretation of the answers. This survey only shows the data and the interpretation. For instance, what were the questions? I tend to agree with Mark Twain’s observation that “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

I do question the statement that “These statistics are representative of the demographics of the City of Farmers Branch”. Witness the demographics data as reported in the survey vs. that reported on the internet (Yahoo! Real Estate).

 
Length lived in Farmers Branch:
< 2 years 3.3%
2 to 5 years 9.8
6 to 10 years 21.3
11 to 20 years 23.0
> 20 years 41.8

 

Demographics Survey   Yahoo! Real Estate
Typical age 52 years   36 years
Mean household income $74,550   $62,113
Gender Male 36%   50.7%
Female 64%   49.2%
Housing Statistics      
Own Home 85%   64.46%
Rent 14%   30.53%
Home Type      
single family home 83%    
apartment 9%    
townhome/condo 7%    

 

Age of children in the household:
0 to 5 years old   12.0%
6 to 10 years old  13.5%
11 to 13 years old  13.0%
14 to 19 years old       12.0%
No children under 20  66.5%

 

Ethnicity
Caucasian 73.5%
African Am. 2.0%
Hispanic   17.0%
Asian    0.8%
Other    1.3%

 

  • The program’s success is reflected in improved housing and property conditions in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in Farmers Branch. The basic premise of using property condition surveys, strategic planning, performance measures and proactive code enforcement, developed by the City of Farmers Branch, is nationally recognized as a best practice model for code enforcement programs. (Chapter 18 of the Building Department Administration 3rd Edition published by the International Code Council)
  • …….. the desired living environment that is currently enjoyed.

Okay – everybody has seen a drop in home values in the past year, so we won’t even dwell on that, but Farmer’s Branch has also seen a nearly 4% reduction in population. So much for the desired living environment.

Based on Mr. Olk’s statement that “proactive code enforcement policies have been in effect since 1995”, coupled with the discussion above, I would come to the conclusion that aggressive code enforcement  has had minimal impact on the city, although considering the developments in the past year that may change, and not for the better.

The average Citizen’s trust of government has been at an abysmal low for some time now, and lack of communication only reinforces that distrust. If you were really proud of all these achievements you should be singing from the rooftops: proudly displaying data and trend charts. As it is, the City Council’s silence and actions speak volumes.

 

Well, needless to say, I got no response to that letter. Oh, wait – I did too. I got code violations. Lots and lots of Code Violations. And Citations. And Fines. And I got my very own Code Enforcement Professional to inspect my home on a weekly basis.

And here I thought I was being ignored. Silly me.

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I like senior citizens. In fact, I fully intend to be one some day – some day soon. So, I was very interested in the City Council’s constant assertions that they want to provide affordable housing for senior citizens. Well, isn’t that so very sweet and ProActive and Innovative. But Wait – that got me to thinking: there a quite a few senior citizens in The City in the Park, and most of them already live in affordable housing – their own homes which they paid for through the years. Homes that they planned to grow old in. Homes they raised their families in, are comfortable in, and just what they want.

Well, I said “affordable housing”, and it would be except for one thing: Constant Community Surveillance. Yeah – I was looking over the last few month’s Code Violation Cases, and there are an awful lot of violations for decorative items, outdoor storage that The Enforcers don’t think are right for outdoors, grass where they think it shouldn’t be, etc. etc. Normal everyday living stuff. And I got to thinking: how does a Senior Citizen on a fixed income, for instance, trim trees that are growing over the street? Or fix their driveway to The City’s satisfaction? Or paint their own homes. Or a million and one other offenses that are an integral part of living in an aging community, but will make them CRIMINALS in the eyes of Farmers Branch City Council?

Me – right now I’m agile enough to do a lot of work on my own – and I have kids and in-laws  and siblings and friends nearby who will help with the more difficult projects. I’m lucky. But what if I was on a fixed income, and I had a spot of paint peeling on one shutter, or my window screen had a small hole, or a miniblind was missing a slat, or I had grass in my crack, or a tree that was encroaching on the Green Grabber’s territory? And I didn’t have kids and in-laws and siblings close by to help me? And The City, in their unrelenting support of Upscale and Desirable, decided that I was now A CRIMINAL because my home wasn’t up to snuff? What would I do?

I’d freak.

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Yes I would.

I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t do – I wouldn’t purchase another home in Farmer’s Branch – even if it was “affordable”.

  • Because I can’t afford to live under constant surveillance.
  • I can’t afford to have some kid young enough to be my son or grandkid tell me what I can and cannot have in my back yard.
  • I can’t afford to be A CRIMINAL just because my home and I are growing old together.

So what to do? Hey – you know me – I’m not about to throw a problem out without presenting a solution.

There are so many  youth groups that are looking for community service projects. I’ll bet every single church has one, as does Brookhaven College, as do the courts, for that matter. In addition, there are also older people who are willing to help their neighbors, and even strangers. That’s what happens in a small-town community. That’s what happens in a decent, caring community.

Old Lady Crashed

What if we matched people who need help with people who want to help? What if, instead of CRIMINALIZING people we HELPED people? I even know of some contractors: painters, cement layers, fence builders, etc. who are looking for work and will make a deal for quantity. We could gather up everyone who needs work done and get a huge price break for doing it all at the same time.

As for the 14′ tree limbs – that’s one of my pet peeves. It seems that the City Council purchased a Shiny New Bigger More Powerful Green Grabber which needs 14′ clearance instead of the 12′ that the old one needed. So, our City Council changed the rules. Sneakily. And no one knew about it until they got their violation notices. So when you get your Violation Notice you have 7 days to rectify the situation. That’s 7 days after they noticed it – NOT after you are made aware. Now, I don’t know many older folks who can shinny up a big tree, chain saw in hand, and trim branches. I used to be able to do it, but not anymore, as I’m older and wiser and am concerned about my own Health and Safety and Welfare more than that of the Green Grabber.

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To me, blaming the tree owner for the Green Grabber’s problem is the same as a neighbor who builds a swimming pool under your pecan tree, then sues you because pecans fall into their pool. Now, I’m not a lawyer, but I believe that the neighbor has a right to trim the parts of the tree over his pool – he does not have the right to insist that you do it. Shouldn’t the city have the same restrictions? The electric company trims trees that are interfering with their power lines. While I’m not advocating that we get our trees trimmed by Oncor (I’ve seen their work), shouldn’t the city help with this?

I’m just saying………..

//
Old People Dont Care

As you all know, my husband has been ill. He has his good days and his bad days, but our City must go on being Beautiful and Desirable and Park-Like, in spite of  the old, infirm, widowed, aged, poor, disabled, and  incapacitated residents. For that is what makes a City truly Community-Minded: and did I say Desirable? Like a small-town, comfortable, “isn’t it great to be home” atmosphere.

Anyway, if you read my older posts, The City loves to enforce Codes and Ordinances. They love to drive slowly down the streets and count decorative items and check out non-permitted storage etc. etc. etc. You all know this, so I won’t go on. If you do want to see how much they love to do this you can look at the reports on The City Website.

So … hubby had two citations: one for our poor cracked driveway and another for the dreaded Non-Permitted Storage. This is the storage that’s way in the back of our property, and cannot be spied unless you are really really looking hard. I’m talking about parking in the middle of a busy street and looking through my neighbor’s fence, across his entire back yard, past his play fort, across the easement, and into my back yard. Whew – that’s a lot of looking, but our Code Enforcement folks are up to the challenge as they are ProActive, Innovative, and Professional. They actually had to get out of their comfy trucks and walk in ankle-deep mud to see it properly. But they persevered, all for the Health, Safety, and Welfare of the fine citizens of The City in the Park.

So … two citations. As hubby is sick he signed Power of Attorney to me so that I could handle our legal and financial  issues. So I went to the courthouse on the day I thought our court date was. Here’s what I discovered:

  1. Wrong Day – blast it. There were actually two court dates, one for each citation. The nice ladies at the Customer Service desk couldn’t tell me any more, as I was not him.
  2. But they did let me know that there was a WARRANT for him …. for violating the terms of his “parole” from the earlier non-permitted storage offense ….
  • the one where Code Enforcement and I disagreed on whether mesquite and vinyl furniture was meant for outdoor use or not.
  • The one where they drug Hubby, straight out of surgery, up before the judge and talked him into a sweet deal where he promised to “Go and Sin No More”. And “Sin” was defined by Code Enforcement alone!  That deal. Read about it in my posts “Advanced Code Enforcement”, “My Day in Court”, “Our Day in Court”, and  “New Low in the Code Enforcement Game”, among others.

Who didn’t see that one coming.

When I presented the signed PofA they took it to the judge, who decided that it was “The Wrong Power of Attorney”. I asked what the Right Power of Attorney is, but that was “Legal Advice” and thus they could not say.

  • Yes – I argued that telling me what was wrong is also Legal Advice, but they didn’t see the humor in that argument. And
  • Yes, I asked to speak to the judge but he already saw my PofA and didn’t want to talk with me.

So – now what could I do? My Hubby was now a CRIMINAL – as I was informed that to have non-permitted storage is a CRIMINAL OFFENSE. Oh dear –  now was I guilty of harboring a criminal. Oh dear, I selfishly looked out for my own interests, and turned him in. Yes I did: I told them that if it was that big of a deal they could always send the SWAT team to arrest him – since he’s been ill they could find him in bed, in our master bedroom. They didn’t see the humor in that either.

They couldn’t tell me any more because it had already been established that I was not him, and he was THE CRIMINAL. They suggested I speak to his lawyer. Hey – if we could afford a lawyer we would fix the driveway. But that’s not THEIR CONCERN.

As I walked out of the courthouse in frustration a catchy tune kept playing in the back of my mind. A neighbor came over later, and as I told him of the day’s activities he started singing – The Same Tune That I Was Thinking! Wow: here are the catch words:

“You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant…..”

Oh – remember that song?  In a nutshell, Arlo Guthrie and his friends tried to help a neighbor clean her property while she cooked a wonderful Thanksgiving meal for the group. That good gesture went bad when they discovered that the city dump was closed and ultimately ended in Arlo and Company’s arrest for city code violation. This arrest made him a bona-fide criminal and provided an interesting experience when he registered for the draft. If you want to revisit the ’60’s, and hear the whole story, here’s a link to the lyrics:

http://www.arlo.net/resources/lyrics/alices.shtml

Just remember – Violating The Code is a Criminal Offense. As applies to The City in the Park:  and to quote Yogi Berra; “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Unfortunately, I cannot sing like Arlo, but Arlo didn’t have a personal computer either, so I express my astonishment through blogging.

So: there are an awful lot of Criminals in Farmer’s Branch, with new ones being created every single day. Is that Upscale and Desirable? Is that really what The Citizens want? Before you answer, be forwarned:

I can drive down any street in Farmers Branch, look at any home, and find a Code Violation. Yes I can: and I’m not a professional Code Enforcer. It’s easy – The Codes are written that way. We can all be criminals, or we can all insist on sensible, realistic, and well-defined codes. Codes that really are for the good of all the people.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:

One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.

Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

 As many of you doubtless know, I have become so insulted by the antics of our reigning city council that I decided that the only way to stop the insanity was to ….. become ONE OF THEM! Yikes – how low I have fallen.

But desperate times call for desperate measures.

No – I am not going to sit around and think of Innovative and ProActive ways to torture our already tortured citizenry. (Is that a word? – I hope Anonymous contacts and corrects me if I’m wrong. I am always open to constructive criticism.)

Anyway – I just got back from another trip to New Braunfels, and I saw so much that would be Verboten in Farmers Branch that I just had to talk about it: grassy cracks, peeling paint, unpainted <gasp> storage buildings, accessory buildings that were not architecturally compatible with the main building. Oh My. I just don’t know how that town can grow at all, what with all the partying, and decay, and blight. That is not upscale and desireable – Is It?

And it was all so lovely, and peaceful, and if it weren’t for all the tourists and gawkers and visitors spending money and clogging up the quaint shops and parks I could have walked around a lot more. But I digress, what I want to tell you about is my brother’s Market Street House.

My brother, Mike, and his wife live in Houston, but visit New Braunfels often. On one visit they found a lovely little house close to Landa Park (the place where New Braunfels holds its annual Wurstfest – beer drinking, German bands, sausage eating, and standing room only). Anyway, the house had been neglected, and Mike, being my brother, loves a DIY challenge. So he and his wife purchased the home and got to work renovating it. They plan to rent it out during the many many popular events that are held in Landa Park and surrounding areas all year around. The events that draw people from all over the world. Even Harley-Davidson owners, who are really very nice people in spite of the “Hell’s Angels” image from the ’50’s.

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Now, I know what you’re thinking – “Snooooooze”. So I will get to the point.

The next door neighbors have a yard that the Farmers Branch Code Enforcement squad could spend days investigating. I’ll bet they could get every single one of their 8000+ violation notices written in that one yard. But I love looking at all the stuff there – the little plastic flowers, the interesting  but empty flower pots, the strings of lights, the whimsical little statues scattered around, the non-permitted (in the Branch) outdoor furniture, the wind chimes. I’ll bet there’s even a newspaper in the street in front of their house.  Oh my – how fun. The barking dogs sometimes bother me – but once they get used to your presence they find other things to occupy their little minds.

The yard is fun and amusing, but the best thing about these neighbors is that they watch my brother’s property like hawks. As my brother and wife live in Houston, they can only work on the house every other week. So it sits empty a lot. But those neighbors have Mike’s phone number and they call any time they see anyone there. I know – sometimes when I visit New Braunfels I stay in my brother’s house, and even though Mike tells them that I will be there they come and check me out anyway, then call him and verify. I don’t mind – I think that’s great – that is what caring neighbors do:  watch each other’s backs. Take care of each other. Help each other.

So – does Mike have his nose out of joint because  their yard is, uh, busy? Does he worry about his property value diminishing because they have more than 5 decorative items in their front yard? Heck no. He knows that nothing bad will happen to his property on their watch. And he can still rent his little house out for a tidy sum.  And, junk aficionado as I am, I love to gaze over there.  It makes me think that they are lively, vibrant people with personality. It makes me smile.

I know that other people feel this way, as a reader sent this poem. He suggested that you listen to the Garrison Keillor reading, and I imagine that would be great. But I have a lively imagination, so I’ll pretend that Mr. Keillor is reading this.

Plastic Beatitude

by Laure-Anne Bosselaar

<!– (from The Hour Between Dog and Wolf) –>

Our neighbors, the Pazzotis, live in a long
narrow canary-yellow house with Mrs. Pazzotti’s old
father, their 2 daughters, their husbands, 4 kids,
a tortoise-shell cat and a white poodle.
Their yard is my childhood dream: toys,
bicycles, tubs, bird cages, barbeques, planters, pails, tools
and garden sculptures: an orange squirrel eating a nut,
Mickey Mouse pushing a wheelbarrow, St. Joseph
carrying a lantern, his other blessing hand
broken at the wrist, and two tea-sipping toads
in an S-shaped love seat, smiling at each other
under a polka-dotted parasol.
On the yellow railing around the deck,
a procession of nine pinwheels. This May morning,
they thrash the air with each breeze like clumsy
angels nailed to their posts. On the garage wall
at the end of the yard an electric cord
shoots up to the roof. One half connects to a blue
neon insect electrocuter, the other half snakes to, then
disappears into a pedestal cemented on the cornice.
And there she stands, in plastic
beatitude—and six feet of it—the Madonna,
in her white robe and blue cape, arms
outstretched, blessing the Pazottis, their yard
and neighbors, lit from within day and night,
calling God’s little insects to her shining light,
before sending them straight to the zapper—tiny buzzing heretics
fried by the same power that lured them
to their last temptation.

“Plastic Beatitude” by Laure-Anne Bosselaar, from The Hour Between Dog and Wolf. © BOA Editions, Ltd, 1997. Reprinted with permission.

Let’s face it, we are living in hard economic times right now. Yet, in spite of this, The City in the Park is determined to make us look Pretty and Upscale and, well, Park-Like. That takes a lot of money, and with the lawsuits and new signs and new logo and buying real estate for inflated prices they are just scraping by, and going through our savings at an alarming rate. But how are we going to become Upscale and Desirable if we don’t do all these things?

They need our help. They need ideas on how we can save money. They’ve already:

  • fired employees
  • reduced city services
  • increased taxes
  •  increased revenue from traffic and code violations
  •  … what can they do next?

I know that the City Council is delighted with Code Enforcement, and their “attention to detail” and would like to hire 2 more Enforcers. Just think – if 4 people can write 8000 notices in a year, 6 people could write at least 12000. WOW – how Upscale and Desirable is that.

Of course I have an idea. Instead of hiring more Code Enforcers, we should appoint Block Leaders, like they used to have in Germany. They could take care of all of the attention to detail and report to a central unit who could go after the violators. Just think – we could use all the CE trucks for other things, we could have fewer employees, and the block leader would be someone who knows the area and can find all the hidden violations. It was very successful in Germany in the 1940’s. Here’s a description, with slight adjustments to fit our situation:

In Nazi Germany, a Blockleiter (block leader) was responsible for the supervision of a neighborhood or city block and formed the link between the government and the general population. Also colloquially known as a Blockwart (block attendant or warden), he was charged with planning, spreading propaganda communications and developing an acceptance to the policies of the government  City Code of Ordinances among the households (typically 40 to 60) in his area.

It was also the duty of the Blockleiter to spy on the population and report any anti-government activities code violations to the local office. This was helped by keeping files on each household (Haushaltskarten).  Other duties included allocating beds in homes for visiting NSDAP demonstrators counting decorative items in Front Yards, the collection of subscriptions and charitable donations especially for Winterhilfe for the legal defense fund, and organising the clearing of rubble after air-raids making sure no one put their trash out too early.

It is thought that there were nearly half a million Blockleiter. The Blockleiter was appointed to keep an eye upon the activities and political attitudes of the families under his control and to keep a card index system, containing Haushaltskarten, providing detailed information about them. Regular reports were sent from the Blockleiter to the Zellenleiter Code Enforcement Office who in turn reported to his Ortsgruppenleiter Municipal Court and so on up through the chain of political leadership. Any unrest was dealt with swiftly and at source. Small wonder therefore that the Party City Council found it necessary to state on repeated occasions that the Blockleiter was not employed as a Party spy.  doing a great job in beautifying the city, and to be applauded for their Innovative and ProActive Service and Attention to Detail.

Well – there is a downside, but not for the government:

 

 Due to such activities, Blockwarts were particularly disliked by the general population. Today, Blockwart is a colloquial German insult word for a person who feels the motivation to keep people in line, esp. by reporting them to officials or pressing the enforcing of rules (esp. petty rules) upon people. 

Wouldn’t our Sister City of Garbsen, Germany and our  Friendship City of Schonebeck, Germany be proud of our ProActive and Innovation Code Enforcement?

Or maybe we should ask them how that worked out for them, and what they have learned from the experience, and what they would NOT repeat, no matter how Patriotic, or Innovative, or ProActive, or Desirable someone told them it is.

Brrrr – it’s cold outside, but I can see my daffodils starting to poke up out of the ground. As I was surveying my lovely estate in the heart of the City in the Park I noticed the signs of spring coming. And that got me to thinking about summer. And the heat. And how it would be so nice to have a shady spot to relax. Maybe even a spot with a mosquito net, because I sure don’t want to repeat last year’s misery. Since The City has discontinued mosquito spraying it was darned-near impossible to go outside at dusk last year.

Anyway – that’s another story. So, here I was, thinking: wouldn’t it be nice to have a screen house, or gazebo, in my yard. Something pretty and shady. Maybe with a hammock or nice chair and table, and maybe even a fan. Somewhere I could relax outside, but be protected from that hot, hot Texas sun and those disease-carrying insects.

I started to research gazebos and screen houses. Now, I’m a do-it-yourselfer: I hear that there are a few of those living in Farmer’s Branch, even though they have to be low-key, because that is sooooo, well, manual-labor, if you know what I mean. I saw a lot of really neat and awesome plans for building a gazebo or screen house from scratch, and there were also many nice kits on the market for those who are not so handy, or want to get the structure up quickly, but still look nice. Look – here’s is just a small sample of what I found:

 There were so many more, but you get the idea. Do you see anything you like here? I did, and  I was excited about the prospect of having a nice cool shady spot, protected from the bugs.

Uh Ohhhh – wait – I live in Farmers Branch. Darn. None of these structures are legal in Farmers Branch, for we are The City in the Park, and we care about how things look. Here – for those of you who are not aware, I’ll explain how the City Council keeps Farmers Branch beautiful and upscale and vibrant and desirable and free from blight:

Last night I attended a Farmers Branch City Council meeting. According to the agenda, a citizen wanted to bring up some Code Enforcement and other issues of concern and I wanted to meet her and to offer support if I could. Wouldn’t you know – she had purchased and installed – A GAZEBO – in her back yard. She showed pictures; it was a nice pretty new kit gazebo, with canvas top and sides and optional netting. Very pretty and nice and new and awesome.

Code Enforcement didn’t like it. They cited her for disobeying The Code by installing a canvas-topped structure. In her back yard. Can they do that? Oh yes they can. They weren’t sure how, so the City Council asked Jim Olk, the Director of Code Compliance, to explain to the poor lawbreaking citizen how her gazebo violated the citizen’s Health Safety and Welfare. So Mr. Olk, (who I affectionately call the “JOlkster”), got up and explained while the City Council beamed benevolently from their thrones.

Note:  If you are not sure what a canvas-topped structure is, here’s an example:

I can’t possibly quote directly, but I will tell you what I got out of the explanation. Please try to follow as best you can:

“A gazebo is an accessory structure and according to our code it is canvas and The City Council decreed back in 1998 that all accessory structures have to be similar to the primary structure sort of so that for instance if your house is, say 50% brick you must have 50% brick on your accessory structure because otherwise it would look like it didn’t belong to the original structure and that would not be pretty and architecturally compatible and anyway it’s covered in canvas and we don’t like anything that we call permeable material because it might deteriorate and then the already overworked Code Enforcement Officers would be further overworked by having to keep watching  this structure so that we would be ready to cite the homeowner when it starts to deteriorate and then we wouldn’t have time to do anything else because if she had a potentially deteriorating structure in her back yard then other homeowners would think they could do the same thing and then Code Enforcement would have to watch them all and then what if a high wind came along and blew the gazebo into the neighbor’s yard because in my experience when people have these things they don’t anchor them well enough and they can blow around and then Code Enforcement would have to chase them around and then who would they cite  the person who owned the gazebo or the neighbor who now has it on their property and besides that accessory structures are limited to less than 120 square feet so if her structure is say 12X12 it is too big I suppose that if it were 10X10 it would be allowable but then we do allow clothes lines on property so if she takes the canvas covering off the frame she could call it a clothesline of course that wouldn’t shade her from the sun but it would be allowable.”

Whew! I know I missed some points, but I was writing as fast as I could and still couldn’t get it all. I knew that if I tried to think about what he was saying I would get all mired down in logic and silly stuff like that, so I tried not to think about what I was writing, but, well ………………. darn. But I hope I got the major points. All I can say is that there were policemen present and that gazebo owner was lucky they didn’t arrest her on the spot.

And don’t even think about this:

Now, I know what you’re thinking “Yikes – this is all so confusing. I want to be a conscientious citizen of The City in the Park, but when I finally found where The Code was hidden and tried to read it I couldn’t figure out what to do.  I do not want to contribute to urban decay, increased crime, illegal activities, blight, lowered property values, loose morals, excessive yard decoration, unhappy golfers, unemployment, bank foreclosures, alcoholism, drug addiction, the threat of terrorism, disease, empty pots,  ugly paint, poor schools, bad streets, filth, rats rodents and other vermin, non-permitted outside storage, architectural nonconformity, political unrest, social upheaval, dead plants, trees hanging over the street or sidewalk, grass in the cracks, among many many other things.Please help me to be ProActive.”

Okay – I will try my best. In the meantime, just think that if you have to ask, the answer is”NO”. That will hold us until we can work together to figure out what it is that we have to do.

When my husband and I searched for our first home one criteria we agreed as non-negotiable was that it had to have a real wood burning fireplace. One of the greatest pleasures during the winter is to sit by a crackling warm real wood fire sipping hot chocolate, or tea, or hot buttered rum. Nothing beats the smell of a real wood fire, too. Well, maybe fresh-baked bread: mmmmmmmm. Oh – but I don’t want to talk about food right now, I want to talk about the joys of real fireplaces.

If you have a real wood burning fireplace and not one of those flakey gas-log abominations you will have a need for wood to burn in it.For those who are unaware, firewood does not really spring from the backs of pickup trucks owned by rustic and burly country bumpkins, or neatly bundled on store parking lots. No – I’m here to tell you that firewood grows on trees. Really – trust me on this one. As trees will do, the parts that grow to become firewood come in all shapes and sizes. Someone actually has to go out and cut the tree parts into those neat little useful sized firewood chunks that will fit into your fireplace and burn nicely.

I used to buy firewood. Sometimes, especially during the colder years, firewood was hard to obtain and relatively expensive, and if you are not real careful it will be “green” (not seasoned properly) when it’s delivered. Several years ago I noticed that there was a lot of free firewood around the city, thanks to the ever ProActive and Innovation Code Enforcement Officers. Their constant surveillance and bullying ensured that the homeowners kept those evil trees trimmed. Because Farmer’s Branch doesn’t mulch or compost organic waste that perfectly fine firewood was just sent to the landfill. To me, it seemed like such a waste to throw all that fine wood away. So, one year when my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday I asked for a chain saw.  He obliged, and now I spend a lot of time harvesting free firewood from the streets.

There’s an old saying that firewood warms you twice: once when you cut it, and again when you burn it. In Farmer’s Branch the Community Surveillance folks make it so that our firewood is even more efficient. Let me explain:

Many homeowners are kind enough to cut their tree limbs into manageable lengths before they put them by the curb, and for that I am grateful. But, even the kindest homeowner is not going to split large tree stumps just to throw them away, so a lot of time I end up hoisting some pretty large pieces of wood into the back of my truck. In the old days, before Farmer’s Branch became ProActive and Innovative, I put the stumps on end on the concrete so that they could cure through the summer. Some of them were so large that I had to roll them around. When colder weather came I would go out and split the cured wood as I wasn’t about to try to split firewood in 100 degrees heat. That would be detrimental to my Health, Safety, and Welfare.

Alas, at some point some genius decided that rats preferred to nest in firewood: even tree stumps on end on a concrete pad. So, I had to lug those huge stumps onto my firewood rack because this same genius decided that if the big stumps were on a rack 18″ above the concrete the rats couldn’t see them or something. Now, when winter gets here I have to hoist the stumps back off the rack so I can split them. Let’s see, so far this firewood has warmed me 4 times: gathering it in the first place, unloading it from my truck to the ground, hoisting it onto the firewood rack, and then horsing it back onto the ground so I can split it.

Splitting it warms me again, and then restacking the smaller pieces back onto the rack warms me even further. So, thanks to the City of Farmer’s Branch, my firewood warms me at least 7 times. If I think about the city and their logic regarding firewood I get warmed even more – I guess you could say I get pretty hot. Especially when I have to dodge the large chunks as they fall from the rack. But – I guess I have to jeopardize my own Health, Safety, and Welfare for the good of the community, right?

But …….. I am breathlessly waiting to hear what Jim Olk comes up with to justify the notion that firewood stored at least 18″ above the ground is somehow better than firewood stored by universally accepted means. I’m afraid that I share Marty’s scepticism, as I have had a lot of experience with Community Surveillance. It has been my experience that the Community Surveillance Team would rather support their erroneous ideas than admit they are wrong.

For instance: have you tried to find a ready-made firewood rack that stores firewood that high? I have, and the only one I could find (out of hundreds) held the wood 9″ off the ground. And Mother Earth News, among others, warns to stack firewood no more than 4 feet high for safety reasons. A cord of firewood measures 4’x4’x8′, but most homeowners buy what is called a “face cord” which is more or less 4′ high by 8′ long by 16-18″ wide. That doesn’t leave much room for a useless 18″ clearance underneath. Besides that, firewood is extremely heavy, and that 18″ effectively moves the center of gravity upwards on a small footprint. Think of the old Jeeps and their propensity to roll over – that is why they did that; because the weight was high off the ground and not supported by the small wheelbase. The same laws of physics apply to firewood stacks.

I personally know a guy who was told to make his firewood stack higher. He had to get a taller neighbor to put the top pieces of wood on the stack for him, because he couldn’t reach that high. Now, when he retrieves wood he is in danger of having a piece fall right into his face. So much for Health, Safety, and Welfare. For the record: while he was unstacking and restacking his wood he did not find one rat, or rat dropping, or any indication that rats were nesting in his firewood. The idea that rats prefer firewood stacks to your attic, bushes, garage, storage shed, or the golf course is not based in fact.

 I guess hundreds of firewood rack suppliers and experts don’t know as much as our Code Enforcement team. Maybe we could make extra money by hiring them out as consultants. The City of Farmers Branch would also gain even more notoriety as being more than a little, uh, shall we say eccentric. Like we need the extra press.

cartoon - scary tree

Someone told me that a City Council member drove down Pebble Beach last week and became distraught over all the tree limbs that were hanging over the street in clear violation of The Code, which states that there must be vertical clearance of 12′ (if you are doing your civic, albeit uncharitable, duty and complaining about a tree owner from the Report a Code Violation site) or 14′ (if you are a Code Enforcer or a ProActive citizen who actually searches for that entry in The Code, is lucky or persistent enough to find it, bothers to read and try to understand it and small-minded enough to report your neighbor for it.)

I don’t know why the Report a Code Violation site clearance distance is different from the actual code: I guess the City Council has written so many silly rules in so many places that they can’t even keep track of what they’ve said. A similar instance is with the grass and weed height: is it 12″ or 8″?

That’s a manifestation of what those of us in the documentation profession call “Band-Aiding” and violates the first rule of documentation, which is to never repeat the same information in different places. That practice often results in misinformation and error and it is not good practice in legal documents. But, we are lucky enough to have the Code Enforcement professionals who will be happy to interpret the rules for you so you don’t have to worry about all those silly details like what is actually written.

Anyway, that’s not what this post is about. There was a rumor that the poor City Councilperson, concerned about the Health, Safety, and Welfare of the citizens, was so apoplectic that he had to be sedated. Oh my. The same informant told me that the Community Surveillance Team got right to work to track down these inconsiderate tree owners and issued 40-some Notices. Whew! I feel Safer and Healthier already.

Well, that made me curious, and being a ProActive citizen I took a drive down Pebble Beach to see if there could possibly be 40 residents that were so selfish as to allow their trees to threaten this poor Councilperson. I didn’t have a tape measure with me, so I just guesstimated, but even being really picky I could only find 21 homes, and then I threw in the 3 places where the Golf Course crosses Pebble Beach: all of those trees “Branch Out” (!!!) over the curb. But that still didn’t add up to 40-something. I retraced my route, added the streets that intersected Pebble Beach, and snagged another 10.

On my little fact-finding mission I had time to wonder what the Councilperson was driving that he should be so upset about the tree limbs, but who am I to question? I also noticed that Pebble Beach is a very wide street, and a lane on each side is separated from the “normally traveled” area by a solid white line, and I wondered about that. Oh – now I remember: when I first moved to Farmers Branch those were the new bike lanes, and Farmers Branch was very proud of them. I searched for the signs that used to be posted showing that those were bicycle lanes, but couldn’t find any. Maybe they’re out getting the new logo added. Or maybe nobody rides bicycles anymore – that’s probably not Upscale, and anyway we have The Club to do our  exercising – why would we need to ride bicycles? How low-class. Besides that, you would have to have a place to store your bicycle that didn’t violate The Code.

If The City wanted you to ride bikes they would create a nice Bicycle Park for you to go ride in, but then they would have to create rules on size, color, and make of bike, allowed days and times, tire air pressure, etc. etc. Whew, that’s a lot of work for a City Council who has, at most, 4 years’ experience. No – that’s not combined experience, but close. I think combined experience is more like, let’s see, 13 years – for 5 members.

Hmm, most, if not all, of those nasty tree limbs were well within the (old) bike lane white lines. The thought did cross my mind that maybe the Councilperson was actually driving a very very tall vehicle in the bicycle lane, but there were cars parked in that lane every so often, so that may be what really made the CP mad and triggered his apoplexy. There will probably be a new ordinance soon to prohibit parking in the bicycle lanes.

Oh – this just in –  an artist’s rendering of the Councilperson going down Pebble Beach. Now I see why he was infuriated about the the low limbs.

unicycle clown

Incidentally; while I was driving slowly down the streets looking up at the trees I saw a few people standing in their yards. It used to be that when you drove down a street in Farmers Branch the people standing in their yards would smile and wave. Now they stand perfectly still  and glare.

I wonder what’s bothering them.

cartoon - unfriendly neighbors

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