Serious business is afoot in the halls of government in Santa Fe. The city that once proposed leash laws for cats is now angling to license panhandlers and toughen up laws against nudity.
No sensible journalist would trade Santa Fe’s city government for anything else—it’s just too entertaining to surrender. But one wonders if the City Different’s citizens are all that happy, on balance, with the time, energy and tax dollars spent pursuing ordinances that feel cooked up by reality TV contestants.
Here’s the pitch for the show: We stick eight argument-prone people from different backgrounds in a room together and tell them to create rules to govern a small town. We’ll challenge them with wacky issues, such as homeless people and naked bicyclists and unemployment, and see if they can keep the populace from burning them to death. We’ll call it “City Council.”
So, if you have to buy a license to panhandle, do you have to illegally panhandle in order to raise the cash to buy the license? Either that or panhandle in another city until you’ve got the dosh to beg in tony Santa Fe, where Police Chief Aric Wheeler and the City Attorney’s Office hope to charge $10 a year for the right to solicit pocket change from passersby.
Wheeler told The Santa Fe New Mexican that such a law would be “…a great tool for us in law enforcement to deal with some of these individuals…,” dangerously Arizona-style talk for laid-back Santa Fe. But what’s the point of “your papers, please” legislation if the root issue is so-called “aggressive” panhandlers who allegedly bother people at ATMs, gas stations, liquor stores, etc.? I’m sorry, ma’am—I know he’s making you uncomfortable, but he’s legally licensed to harass you for cash.
In other words, Chief Wheeler knows full-well that no one who needs to panhandle is ever going to buy a license—enacting this new law would be about police power rather than public safety. But I suppose with runaway gun violence, illegal off-roaders taking alleged potshots at hikers on city property, free-flowing illegal drugs and skyrocketing burglary rates, you’ll take whatever jackboot fits. Maybe next year we can go back to rousting teenagers.
Or, better yet, our City Council contestants could marginalize an even more vulnerable group like…naked people.
World Naked Bike Ride apparently shook Santa Fe right down to its birthday suit. After fewer than two dozen minimally-garbed cyclists rode through town in a relatively mild protest against oil dependency, we’re staring up the skirt of toughened nudity laws.
A full 20 people apparently complained, and now an ordinance is in the works to ensure those inclined to less clothing are required to cover more than just “genitalia.” The primary argument is that we can’t have children suddenly subjected to unapproved nudity. I mean, what if a child saw, for example, a nipple? We might as well be having sex in the streets, people.
Speaking of which, sex in the streets is apparently not currently illegal. The proposed law would explicitly close previous loopholes regarding public intercourse and public fondling of genitalia. So, you know, make hay while the sun shines, as they say.
The new law would have another built-in loophole, however: “Forms of expression” and the “communication of ideas” will be exempt from enforcement. The intent is to protect artists and theatrical performers, but presumably World Naked Bike Ride—which started the hullaballoo in the first place—would qualify for this exemption, as would working strippers. But let’s say you want to go naked while panhandling as a means of “expressing” your inability to afford clothing? That’s what I’d call a “gray area.”
It’s disingenuous to suggest that our City Council contestants and their support staff spend all their time working on such ridicule-worthy regulations—we know they routinely deal with more pressing and practical matters—but it speaks to a perceived inability to prioritize.
What are we to think when naked unemployment still bares itself for all to see and insider contractors appear to “panhandle” their way into millions in city contracts, yet government most notably springs into decisive action because of a bum or a bare breast?
Where is our decisive action on promised campaign finance reform? Why can’t the council work in concert to clean up crooked contracting and comprehensively condemn conflict of interest in government? I mean, imagine what a strange tangle we’d be in if sitting City Councilor Matthew Ortiz were threatening a “lengthy and protracted” lawsuit against city police rather than the county sheriff’s department. But hiding natural bodies from children and intimidating the homeless apparently take precedence over condemning poor judgement and remedying the cause.
My question is this: If it takes 20 complaints to initiate a new ordinance about public nudity, how many would it take to outlaw wasting time and money on frivolous regulation? I bet I can have at least 19 more people complain by the end of the day.
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