"He has ... sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance."
-- From a list of complaints against King George III in the Declaration of Independence
Is it time to lock and load yet?
Given the miserable state of our local economy, you'd think the powers that be would be inclined to cut a break, whenever possible, to the beleaguered small-business owner.
Tangles, Bangles and Chocolates is a business on lower McHenry Avenue. If the name's familiar, that's because 10 years ago, the business fought, and ultimately prevailed in, a well-publicized battle with City Hall over the "unauthorized" display of clothing for sale.
Several years ago, owner Deana Baron had some small promotional signs put up in the neighborhood. Shortly thereafter -- very shortly thereafter, according to Baron -- she received a notice from the city informing her that a) six of her "unauthorized" signs had been removed, and b) she owed the city $600 for this service.
Baron asked why her signs had been singled out. She says she never got a satisfactory answer -- one functionary told her "It doesn't matter" -- and refused to pay. Recently, the city placed a lien on her property for the money it wants.
Ciao Bella Ristorante is a small eatery on
H Street. For years, it's had a fenced-in sidewalk area for outdoor dining. A few months ago, out of the blue, the city informed owner Steve Nguyen that his patio didn't meet municipal standards, and told him to remove it. Negotiations proved fruitless, and the city finally threatened to remove the offending structure and bill Nguyen for the work involved.
Right in the middle of the outdoor eating "season," the restaurateur gave in and removed the patio.
Downtown, the comedy involving "authorized" dancing at nightclubs continues. It started with the Police Department controlling who got a license to dance and morphed into a commission created by the City Council to draft a "dancing ordinance." (Nearly half the members of this short-lived commission were city employees.)
Upon receiving the commission's report, the City Council promptly punted, creating yet another commission (you can't make this stuff up) to decide where, in the future, additional dancing will be allowed to occur in our fair city.
Stay tuned -- additional hilarity is bound to be forthcoming.
In the three cases mentioned above, there are two classes of losers: the entrepreneurs and their customers, actual and potential. No winners, really, unless you count someone who knocks on the door and announces, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to give you a hard time."
In case you hadn't noticed, there are plenty of hard times out there already; small businesses are dropping like flies.
Independence Day approaches; is there sufficient patriotism, community outrage, and sense of fair play available for a little tea party?
Flint is a Modesto resident. E-mail him at email@example.com.