The City of Orem, Utah got a bit of egg on its face recently, and it was all because of a law that should have never been passed. A 70-year-old Orem woman was arrested as a result of having not watered her lawn.
Have you ever driven down the street and looked at someone's yard and thought, "I sure wish someone would make them clean that up"? Orem, Utah has a law that says they can do that. And they did that a couple of weeks ago.
A widow and grandma spent the morning in jail, arrested for refusing to give a policeman her name when he tried writing her a ticket for failing to water her yard. The woman hasn't watered her lawn in more than a year, and the condition of her yard violates an Orem zoning ordinance.
Tonight, the woman says she is traumatized and shocked that she was hauled to jail, just because she says she can't afford to water her lawn.
Betty Perry says, "I never thought they would ever do anything like that to a person that is 70 years old. I've never bothered anybody, I've never hurt anybody."
When Betty Perry heard a knock at her door and saw a police officer standing outside, she never imagined she would end up in jail. That's what happened, though, when the officer tried enforcing Orem's nuisance ordinance against neglected yards.
When I served on the Santaquin City Council several years ago, it was not uncommon for someone to comment that Santaquin City wasn't a pretty as other cities. The statement went something like "My relative/friend came to visit the other day, and he/she said they couldn't believe how dirty Santaquin was. We should do something to require people to clean up their yards."
The way I see it, however, it's not about pretty. It's about safety and property rights. You might make the claim that if your neighbor's yard is messy then your property value goes down. But in my opinion, that dog won't hunt. If you're that worried about your property value then you should (a) get to know you neighbor better, and (b) have not gone into such great debt to buy a house. The Santaquin City council in a least one case did require the police department to act in a case of nuisance, but that was because he had stacks of waste and old cars and unkempt weeds that had become breeding ground for rodents, etc. And the requirement was that the home owner clean up their mess. I supported that action as a matter of public health and safety.
If someone wants to have a yellow lawn, then let them have a yellow lawn. Admittedly, the Orem police chief was incensed when he found out the 70-year-old woman was in jail, and he had her immediately released. But the problem wasn't with the fact that she was arrested.
The problem was that Orem, Utah had the audacity to make such a senseless law in the first place.