Thursday, December 24, 2009

Now That We Have Your "Attention-Getting Devices"

When Metro tore up Main Street for its light rail line, many small businesses suffered a significant drop in revenues, resulting in many closing for good. Vowing that it has learned its lesson, Metro plans to provide grants up to $25,000 for businesses along Richmond Avenue while work is in progress on the light rail line there. However, the grants will be available only to approved businesses--national chains, liquor stores, and sexually oriented businesses (SOBs) need not apply. Nor are businesses with more than 20 employees or more than $1 million in annual revenues.

It is bad enough that Metro is robbing taxpayers to build rail lines that nobody uses and disrupts business. But now Metro wants to take more of our money to subsidize certain businesses.

According to the Chronicle, Metro also plans to provide flags, signs, and banners to help the businesses inform drivers that they are open, as well as how to navigate the construction zone. But as the paper reports, there is a little snag:

[S]ome of the proposed flags would flutter afoul of the city's newly tightened sign ordinance, which bans certain types of “attention-getting devices.”

City Council may have to approve a small change in the city's sign law to allow temporary banners to stay up for longer than the allotted seven out of 30 days, according to city public works official Andy Icken. The city is also advising Metro on a design for the banner to make it uniform in shape and color.

So it seems that "attention-getting devices" aren't so bad after all. At the time city council banned "attention-getting devices" council member Sue Lovell justified the move because such devices are distracting to drivers. So, as one government agency seeks to remove distractions, another seeks to use them. And apparently the city will comply.

This entire story is more than blatant hypocrisy. It demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the city's, and Metro's, policies.

Why, for example, are businesses with more than 20 employees exempt from receiving a grant? Are we to assume that a business with more employees or national chains won't be negatively impacted by Metro's destruction of Richmond Avenue? And why are liquor stores and SOBs exempt? Could it be that they are politically unpopular? Could it be because the city has already been engaged in efforts to shut down such establishments?

For the city's part, if "attention-getting devices" are such an evil, why will it tolerate them along Richmond? Why is the city willing to make exceptions? Could it be an attempt to buy the support of opponents to rail along Richmond?

Regardless of the pathetic excuses that the city and Metro will offer for exceptions to their rules, both government entities are demonstrating that their policies and rules are founded only on the expediency of the moment. What is true today won't necessarily be true tomorrow. What applies to one block of Richmond doesn't necessarily need to apply to another block. In short, the rules can--and will--be changed to fit the whims of politicians and bureaucrats.

The more cynical among us might simply dismiss this as politics as usual. But the fact that it is politics as usual is what should concern us. When politicians can casually contradict themselves without reproach from their constituents, something is very wrong.

In the end we get exactly the government we deserve and demand. If the citizenry wants principled statesmen, then it must accept nothing less. Until that occurs, we will continue to be subject to the caprice of of politicians.

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