Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pop Goes the Shotgun

All around the metroplex,

the hunters chase the birdies.

Even on a Sunday morning…

POP! goes the shotgun.

Yes, Frisco residents, it’s that time of year once again. In case you haven’t noticed (and how could you miss it) dove hunting season opened at the beginning of September. That means for the next few weekends, every patch of open ground from here to Luckenbach is going to be infested with camo-clad, shotgun-wielding, good ole boys (and gals) hell bent on bagging their limit of these innocuous avians.

You wouldn’t think that the hunting patterns of Hunterous Texicanas would make much difference to us city-dwellers. And up to a few years ago, you’d be right. But in 2005, those sages of legislative imagination in Austin saw fit to over-ride municipal restrictions on gun play within city limits, as long as it’s on a certain 10-acre (or 50-acre for handguns and rifles) parcel of land. Given the number of undeveloped tracts of land in Frisco, this ensures that your fall mornings are punctuated with the popcorn-like exclamations of 20-gauge birdshot.

Now, before we go any further, let me state that I’ve spent some time traipsing across Texas in camouflage. (Not that I’ve ever actually shot anything. But that’s another story.) I can respect the desire to get out into the open spaces, pit yourself against nature and bring home a little extra meat for the dinner table. (Very little meat, in this case. Have you seen the size of those birds? It would take half a dozen just fill out the chicken nuggets in a Happy Meal!)

That said, I do have a problem with hunters plying their trade blocks away from downtown Frisco. It turns out that some 10-acre plots sit right next to residential developments and, in at least one case, a day-care facility. If hunters follow the proper protocols, nobody’s life is in any serious danger. The law stipulates that hunters must be 150 feet from the property boundary to shoot. Given the effective range of a typical bird-hunting shotgun, that should preclude any errant shots from doing damage along the perimeter. But residents and businesses around town are complaining about finding birdshot strewn around their patios, furniture and parking lots. This is, in itself, a violation of the law. Regardless of setbacks or parcel size, it is illegal to discharge a firearm if the projectiles would land on somebody else’s property.

While life and limb are in no real danger from a scattering of birdshot – or even the heavier buckshot – rifles are another story. These, too, are now legal to use within the city on any parcel over 50 acres (we have a few of those, as well). Again, there’s a restriction on the distance a hunter must be from the property line: in this case, a whopping 300 feet. And while a shotgun isn’t likely to do much damage after fifty yards or so, a 30.06 bullet still packs a lethal wallop up to a quarter mile and beyond.

So once again we see a conflict arising from the urbanization of Texas’ open space. It seems every year there’s another example of development encroaching on space where Texans were once free to roam. I’m all for protecting property owners’ rights; particularly where those owners have held their land for much longer than most of Frisco even existed. But we have to recognize the reality of suburban growth and balance public safety against the limitation of certain of those rights. It doesn’t take a Nostradamus to see that sooner or later someone or something is going to get hurt by errant ammunition. We can only hope the damage is limited to some buckshot taking out a window or two.

Meanwhile, Frisco isn’t going anywhere. In fact, despite the recent “hiccup” in the economy, it’s going to keep getting bigger. Let’s hope our legislators recognize the inherent danger of this situation and allow local governments to regain regulation of firearms within city limits.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Keep the Rules Simple

Soccer’s a wonderful game for so many reasons. The athleticism, the ebb and flow of the game, the ability to see a live, professional –level game without taking out a third mortgage on your house just for nosebleed seats. But the thing that makes soccer great is the simplicity of the rule book. Unlike so many American traditions like baseball and football, soccer doesn’t load up the books with a bunch of “you must do this and you must do that” rules. Instead, it uses a much simpler proscription: you can’t touch the ball with your hands. Everything else is up to your imagination. Headers, chest bumps, how-the-heck-did-he-do-that bicycle kicks. These innovations grew out of the simplicity of the rules.

To me, that’s one of the criteria for effective legislation. Don’t try to fill the law books with specifics of what you can do. Instead, prohibit actions that are clearly undesirable (killing, running red lights, cheering for the New York Yankees) and leave the rest up to the individual.

With the recent dust up over the Stonebriar Home Owners Association’s rule against pick-trucks in the driveway, I took the opportunity to re-familiarize myself with my own HOA’s rule book: the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions declaration. (Okay, I’ll come clean. This is the first time I’ve actually read them.) Thankfully, I found that Plantation Resort 2 has no such silly restrictions on the ubiquitous “Texas Cadillac.”

Instead, it bans Sport Utility Vehicles. That’s right; your shiny Chevy Suburban is vehicula non grata in PR2. The rule, you see, is worded from an “inclusive” perspective. “No vehicles or similar equipment shall be parked or stored in an area visible from any street except…” and then it goes on to list the four types of vehicles the authors found acceptable; in this case, passenger automobiles, passenger vans, motorcycles and pick-up trucks. A strict interpretation of this rule would exclude Hummers, Suburbans, Excursions and other SUVs. And what about a panel van used in your home business? Or that cool, three-wheeled Moped I’ve got my eye on. Sadly, the way the rule is written would allow an over-zealous HOA board to embark on a crusade against any of these modes of transportation.

Further perusal of the document reveals that the gas cook-top which was so instrumental in the decision to buy my house is, in fact, prohibited. The CC&R clearly states: “Except within fireplaces in the main residential dwelling and except for outdoor cooking, no burning of ANYTHING shall be permitted anywhere within the project.” (Caps added.)

Now, set aside for a moment any snide comments you may have heard from Mrs. Line about my cooking talents, or lack thereof. My cook-top clearly burns natural gas to provide heat for my culinary excursions. Based on the rule above, that’s a no-no. And those dandy little chiminea’s that lend such a southwest flair to our expansive Texas porches? Right out.

Both of these rules were written a number of years ago. The date on the original declaration was 1992, but I suspect the rules were likely copied from an even older document. And that exposes the danger of trying to legislate by “inclusion” rather than “exclusion.” Had the vehicle rule been written to exclude those vehicles which were considered undesirable (broken down cars, dilapidated jalopies, anything produced by American Motors Corporation from 1970-1978) then today’s innovations wouldn’t be a problem. Likewise, if the ban had been placed on burning materials outside of constructed fireplaces or kitchen equipment, my kids could still enjoy their marshmallow roasts without aiding and abetting the criminal classes.

The good news, in this case, is that CC&Rs were designed to be changed. A simple two thirds majority of my fellow homeowners is all it takes to correct these and other issues (what do you mean I can’t dry my clothes in the back yard?!?). I even dropped by my HOA board meeting the other night and volunteered to help rewrite the document. Now all we have to do is convince over 700 homeowners to show up to a meeting in May to ratify the changes. If we can pull that off, I’m taking a shot at the bicycle kick next!