Fifth among the six legs of the stool on single family zoning proposed by City Council Member Jack Weiss is an upgrade of the nuisance ordinances. I take this to mean the ordinances having to do with noise, parking, public urination, littering, underage drinking, public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. The Bellingham Municipal Code (BMC) generally defines nuisances thus:
Title 10 Criminal Code
Chapter 28 NUISANCES
10.28.010 - DEFINITIONS
B. "Nuisance" means any act, condition, omission, thing, or use of property which does the following:
1. Annoys, injures, or endangers the safety, health, comfort, or repose of the public;
2. Offends public decency;
3. Unlawfully interferes with, obstructs, or renders dangerous for passage a waterway, public park, street, sidewalk, alley, or highway; or
4. In any way renders the public insecure in life or in the use of property.
Noise is specifically covered in the municipal code: 10.24.120 - Public Disturbance Noise. (Click here to read the Noise portion of the code) The ordinance is in effect 24 hours a day except for noises emanating from construction activities. The 24 hours-a-day proscription usually comes as a surprise to even long time
Parking is covered under many various sections (Click here to go to the BMC and enter the word “parking” as a search term) of the municipal code. I would not at this time hazard a guess as to the manner in which the City Council can enhance these codes. Enforcement of the current codes would appear to me to suffice, however, a recent attempt at enforcing parking on city streets near the WWU campus produced howls of protests from renters and WWU itself.
Public urination is prohibited under BMC Section 10.24.020. (Click here to read that code portion.) Again, I am hard put to discover a means to enhance this ordinance except to make the penalty for an infraction much more severe.
Littering has many facets as dozens of sections of the BMC refer to litter. One problem with enforcement of litter violations is that there is only one person in the city government who enforces litter complaints (formerly known as the Litter Control Officer). Since this summer, that individual (now known as the Neighborhood Compliance Officer) has additional duties enforcing the zoning codes with respect to single family occupancy and illegal rooming houses.
Underage drinking/public drunkenness is mostly covered by the Revised Code of Washington whose restrictions have been adopted by reference into the BMC. I think the Bellingham Police Department does a fairly good job at enforcing these statutes but is limited by time, personnel and other priorities. If the City Council wishes to enhance enforcement of these codes a few dozen more police officers would help immensely. The Campus Community Coalition has done a lot of good educational work over the past few years regarding alcohol abuse but their grant to continue such work has run out.
Disorderly conduct is, in part, defined by the BMC as “Make[ing] or caus[ing] to be made any loud or boisterous noise which unreasonably disturbs the peace, comfort and repose of others, or permits such public disturbance to be made at any residence or business under his charge or control.” (You can read the full definition of that portion of the code by clicking here.) This is the code portion under which most renters or residents are cited when there is an out-of-control party. I would favor stricter enforcement, i.e., no warnings for first offenses.
None of the above will, obviously, cure the problem of neighborhood density control and illegal rooming houses. The treatment for that ill is enforcement of zoning codes related to single family dwellings.