About Me

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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Carlsbad's Proposed RV Parking Ordinance

At its January 29 meeting, the city council will vote on a new ordinance that would offer free parking permits for recreational vehicles for up to 144 days a year for a resident, 18 days for an out of town visitor. According to the draft proposal, the new law is intended to respond to "an increase in complaints regarding the parking and /or storage of Oversized Vehicles."

As one who's complained about how often they've put my safety at risk by blocking the view of oncoming traffic on side streets, my response to the proposed law is, don't do me any favors.

Eliminating permanent RV parking will definitely be a big improvement. But this proposal will wind up being costly to taxpayers and is weakened by attempting to accommodate motor home owners. It
may be better to start over again.

Here are its two major problems.

1. Parking permits will allow a resident to park an oversized vehicle for four periods of up to 72 hours per calendar month, making it possible for an RV to be parked in front of an owner's house every weekend year-round. Out of town guests of residents may be granted permits for up to six periods per year of up to 72 hours each, an additional 18 days, bringing the yearly total to 162 days of allowable curbside parking. City streets may become slightly safer for drivers and less trashy by getting rid of permanent parking, but the visual blight will remain.

2. Among the reasons listed for denying a parking permit for up to one year include a two-strikes provision that penalizes an applicant who has violated the parking time limits two or more times, as well as out-of-town visitors who are "not a guest of the applicant." There's no definition of who qualifies as a "guest."

The new law will either increase the burden on compliance code officers or will be left mostly unenforced, creating more of the complaints city leaders want to reduce. I'm guessing it will be the latter, since permits will be free and the cost of assuring compliance has not been addressed. Stepping up compliance enforcement without a parking permit fee is likely to mean the costs will be borne by city taxpayers.

Although the ordinance is well-intentioned, it's far too lenient to make much of a difference to those who share my complaints about RV parking. Seems to me the hulking eyesores will continue to be as obstructive and detrimental to the attractiveness of the city's neighborhoods as they are now.

Here's the link to the draft proposal to see for yourself: http://tinyurl.com/bd7ry6z

Better Than Red-light Cameras

I'm a fan of red-light cameras, despite cursing them for the $600 they cost me for a San Diego intersection photo op and online traffic school instruction.

My wife and I were on our way back from the airport when I came upon the turn off North Harbor Drive onto West Laurel Street. I call it the Intersection From Hell, where two streams of oncoming traffic, controlled by two stop lights, divide. Traffic was light that day, and we were engaged in a spirited conversation. While crossing through the IFH I asked my wife, "Did I just run a red light?" She said, "I think so."

I was certain she was wrong after several weeks of opening the mail with baited breath. Two months had passed before I received the photos of me at the wheel. They were taken from three different angles of our Honda caught in the middle of the intersection while a red light beamed in the background.

After briefly considering a court appearance, pleading old guy confusion in hopes of a reduced fine, I decided to use the painful episode as a learning experience. It not only taught me to be more alert behind the wheel, but to pay closer attention to speed limits and amber lights.

I'm not unhappy with the absence of red-light cameras in Carlsbad. Maybe there are fewer serious accidents caused by stoplight violators. But using technology to improve traffic safety makes a lot of sense. California drivers are famous for ignoring speed limits, refusing to use turn signals, and engaging in rolling stops. Traffic cops need all the help they can get to keep us safe on the road.

The most effective use of technology for traffic safety I've seen is the digital speed limit signs showing your current speed together with the posted speed limit. What makes them so effective when standard speed limit signs and your own speedometer give you the same information? Edward Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics, explains why. The blinking of their message catches your eye with its instant feedback and displays your speed to other drivers, producing peer pressure to drive within the limit.

Aviara Parkway has digital speed limit signs lining the road as it passes Aviara Elementary School. They light up when you approach the speed limit and begin blinking, SLOW DOWN! SLOW DOWN! when you exceed it. Unlike red-light cameras, you don't get your picture taken and slapped with a fine a few months later.

Red-light camera objectors claim they make too many mistakes, that they create more rear-end collisions, and that they're just a scam to enable cities to collaborate with private companies to pick our pockets.

There's plenty of evidence red-light cameras are more helpful than harmful, but maybe expanding the use of digital speed limit signs and other technology that changes bad driving behavior, rather than simply punishing it, will be both more effective and more acceptable to those who fear Big Brother.

Sandy Hook Could Happen Here

It could happen here. In fact, it did happen here two years ago, on October 8, 2010, when a mentally ill gunman jumped a fence, entered the Kelly Elementary schoolyard and began firing at kids ranging from 7 to 11 years old. Two seven-year-old girls were struck in their arms. It was a miracle nobody died. Had the shooter been carrying the same semi-automatic rifle used by the Sandy Hook Elementary School killer the result would have been a tragedy of the same magnitude.

Wednesday, after several days of grieving for the families who lost loved ones in that small town in Connecticut, we were greeted by a press release from the Carlsbad School District reporting that a high school student had "threatened to cause harm" to other students on December 21. The threat had been made "prior to" the Sandy Hook tragedy. The student has been identified, and school officials say there is "no reason to believe the student has the means to act on this threat" and that they're keeping in "close contact with the family and school authorities to determine the appropriate next steps in keeping the campus safe."

Following the April 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting that took 32 lives, ABC News reported 323 students had died during the previous 15 years in documented school shootings.

The mass murder of 20 children in Connecticut keeps pace with that annual death rate. Will our response be different because of the age of the victims? Early signals from President Obama and Congress gives me hope, but the pushback against gun control from the National Rifle Association is not encouraging.

We've already heard claims that gun-free zones, like schools, are "magnets for mass murder," since shooters know teachers are unarmed. By that line of reasoning, the way to keep school children safe is for teachers to be trained marksman. And who better to train and credential them than the NRA?
But when it comes to gun control, let's face facts. The current population of the United States is about 314 million. Estimates of privately owned guns range from 190 to 300 million. A 2011 Gallup Poll estimates 47 percent of households own at least one gun.

The question isn't a matter of number of guns, it's their availability to the wrong people. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says gun shows and online shopping results in only about 40 percent of gun purchases made after background checks.

Legislation banning assault weapons, expanding background checks and investing in mental health treatment can all help to reduce the number of tragedies like Columbine and Sandy Hook. But we can all play a part in cultural change. The graphic depiction of violence in video games, on TV and in popular movies thrives only because of its profitability. Censorship in a free society is not the answer.

But there's something hypocritical about weeping over violent acts while buying tickets to see them depicted on a screen.