Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Sofa Ban" Fails

Council Member Hofstede's proposed ban on upholstered furniture on porches was defeated at the Council today on a 9-4 vote. Interestingly, only those Council Members who voted for it when it came before the Public Safety committee (Hofstede herself, Samuels, Johnson and Ostrow) were supportive today.

CM Hofstede read a letter of support from the family of one of the students who died in the well-known 2003 house fire in Southeast Como. It was difficult to oppose such a heartfelt request for the City to act, but I still could not in good conscience support the ordinance as proposed. The data provided to the Council by our Fire Department makes abundantly clear that upholstered furniture on porches is not a major driver of fires in our city: less than one-third of one percent of the fires in Minneapolis over the last three years have had anything to do with upholstered furniture outside. As importantly, there has been at least one fire caused by upholstered furniture manufactured for outdoor use (which would have been expressly allowed under CM Hofstede's proposed ordinance). Together, these facts make clear to me that this proposal was never really about fire prevention.

I am actively exploring changes to our fire alarm / smoke detector ordinance that would, in my opinion, better address these fire safety concerns. I look forward to working with CM Hofstede on this more specifically-tailored push for better fire protection for residents.

That leaves aesthetics. I am, as I have said in previous posts, skeptical and cautious when it comes to aesthetic arguments. One analogy, which I used in my arguments this morning, is house paint. It's the City's job to tell homeowners that they need to repair chipping and peeling paint. Lead paint chips are a well-known public health issue, and one property owner's lack of maintenance can bring down a neighbor's property value. But it's definitely not the City's role to tell homeowners what colors they can choose for their house. We give people the freedom to make that aesthetic decision themselves. I see our current code, which allows us to address unhealthy, ill-maintained sofas, as the same as a "chipping paint" regulation. In my estimation, CM Hofstede's proposal crossed the line into "color of paint" territory.

The last point I'll make on this is to react to one other point CM Hofstede made this morning. She claimed that the City doesn't allow people to have "piles of wood" in their backyards. However, we do. Look here for the municipal code and search for ordinance 228.30. You'll find that we allow people to have up to two cords of firewood on their premises, as long as it is stacked neatly, kept from rotting, etc. This is a good example of a smart regulation, in that it allows people to do something that they enjoy (e.g. store firewood, sit on their porches), as long as they do it in a way that's reasonably healthy and conscientious to their neighbors (e.g. stack firewood neatly, keep sofas from rotting).

This is the way our laws should look, and that's the reason I joined the majority of my colleagues in voting down the "sofa ban" this morning.


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