Monday, June 07, 2010

Michael Anschel and Grass

Fellow NOMI homey Michael Anschel has gotten some coverage for taking his case to the Minneapolis inspections office. The whole incident is depressing.

In a nutshell, Mr. Anschel worked for years to develop native grasses in his yard. Recently, the city gave him notice that his yard violated city ordinance, requiring lawns to be kept under eight inches.

Upon receiving the notice, poor Michael called the provided number to explain his situation. He left a voicemail, expecting to receive a call back from the inspector overseeing his block.

Yeah, here's how that goes. Suffices to say, the city did not return the phone call, and instead decided to mow his lawn, at his expense. The city claims to not have any record of the phone call. Yeah, I've heard that one before.

Anschel is using this as an opportunity to educate people about the importance of planting native grasses, and good on him for doing so. But he's missing the broader point.

The real story is that he called the city to explain his situation, and left his message. Alas, some bureaucratic slob couldn't be bothered even to return a phone call. This, frankly, is par for the course. How can we expect him to learn the difference between native grasses and weeds?

The problem is not that city inspectors do not have working knowledge of local grasses, but that we have given authority to a city bureaucracy to transform our properties, and have done so without any accountability. When confronted, the city can simply claim that they have no record of any complaint. I can guarantee you that the city inspectors office has NO record of ANY complaint.

Why would they keep such a record? Why should they return a phone call? Any time a city orders the mowing of a lawn, it makes money ($30 or so). That money funds the bureaucracy that employs the slobs who do not give a damn whether you are planting native grasses or viral weeds.

Sure, the inspectors might attend the mandatory classes that Michael Anschel's effort had produced. They will do so through clenched teeth. After all, you have interfered, in some small way, with their paradigm of earning money on auto pilot. By their lights, they are entitled to solid pay, eternal job security, and exquisite benefits. As an added bonus, they don't need to know things.

You are requiring them to know things.

So yeah, they'll probably be on the look out for prairie grass (which again, the planting of which is a fantastic idea), but the larger problem remains. What happens to the first-time homeowner who has failed to paint his shingles according to code? Or to replace a railing? Or to relocate his rhubarb?

Any time you pit city employees against homeowners, the homeowners lose. If the city inspectors continue to be unresponsive to citizen complaints, then we live under their whim. That is tyranny.

I feel for Michael Anschel. He has lost a lot, and seems motivated to enact change. Here's hoping the change extends beyond the question of grass.


Blogger soup said...

Why is planting prairie grass a good idea?

I probably wouldn't want his prairie grass seed blowing into my yard if I lived next door.

But, then again, I know nothing about grass. Prairie or other.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Kevin Sawyer said...

It requires less mowing, watering and feeding.

12:44 PM  
OpenID imattterry said...

I lived a couple blocks over and every time I drove by it simply looked like a yard full o' weeds. They painstakingly redid their house,which turned out great, but it seemed the front yard was still in construction mode.

Sooo, my two cents is that if you want to do native grasses, at least incorporate some level of design aesthetic so it enhances the block rather than detracts.

4:27 PM  

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