“Council approves new wood smoke policy as a nuisance ordinance,” said the headline over Tom Sakash’s front-pager one day last week.
Responding to the complaints registered against a whopping eight homes in Davis last winter, the Davis City Council gave us a new and improved wood-burning ordinance that just might let some folks have a fire in an old-fashioned fireplace on Christmas Eve.
According to Sakash’s piece, the new ordinance “allows any ‘reasonable person’ who’s bothered by a neighbor’s wood smoke to call up the city’s code enforcement detail and file a nuisance complaint.”
Which is all well and good, depending, of course, on how they define that phrase “reasonable person.”
It certainly lets me off the hook in terms of having an occasional fire, since none of my neighbors can be considered “reasonable,” mostly because they all claim to actually enjoy living in East Davis.
“If it’s determined that the offender is, in fact, causing a public nuisance, the city can initiate enforcement procedures, which eventually would include citations.”
But, does the nuisance have to be caused by wood smoke alone or can the offender get an enhancement if he’s standing on the front lawn in his underwear waving a 40-ounce bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon?
“Code enforcement officers can only identify the source of the potential nuisance, however, by looking for visible smoke. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the less efficiently a fire burns, the more visible smoke — and harmful particles — it produces.”
Not to worry in my humble household. Since I take all my wood-burning instructions directly from the Vatican, our chimney produces only white smoke that is not visible after dark to the eyes of even the highly trained members of the Davis Fireplace Force.
Clearly, though, before any citation can be issued, a police psychiatrist must first certify that the person making the complaint is indeed “reasonable.”
It also will be necessary to determine that the complaining party is actually a neighbor within smelling distance of the offending home, and not just a member of the Natural Resources Commission out cruising the streets of Davis looking to make trouble.
“The wood smoke needs to be at such a level that it’s causing a nuisance to someone in the vicinity, someone in the area,” explained Mike Webb, the city’s director of community development, sustainability and wood smoke abatement.
“Individuals burning wood with a wood-pellet burning device or an EPA Phase II-certified wood-burning appliance or fireplace would be exempt from the ordinance.”
Now wait a minute, I thought the standard was “visible smoke,” not what sort of incinerator was producing that smoke.
I can hear the knock at the door now.
“Excuse me, sir, that smoke you’re producing is a public nuisance.”
“Or no, officer, that’s a wood-pellet-fueled public nuisance; you’ve got nothing on me.”
Turns out, according to Sakash, “public works staff recommended enforcing the ordinance year-round,” apparently in case that guy with the 40-ounce PBR is also barbecuing burgers in his living room.
“The city estimates there are roughly only eight to 12 chronic burners in Davis.”
If that’s the case, there’s an easy way to settle this thing once and for all.
Since the city clearly knows where these smoky scofflaws live, just use the power of eminent domain to level their homes, relocate these hardened criminals to Woodland, disband the Fireplace Force forever and let the rest of the “reasonable” people of Davis live happily ever after.
— Reach Bob Dunning at email@example.com