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!

No comments: