Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Thanks, Coeur d'Alene City Council

Shortly after moving to Coeur d'Alene in 2000, I applied for and received a home occupation business license. It seemed like the right thing to do even though none of my consulting business clients are in Coeur d'Alene or even in Idaho. In other words, no one would have known had I not voluntarily complied with city ordinances.

I applied for the license first to comply with the presumed intent of the city's ordinances (protect citizens, neighbors, and residences) and second to give clients a vehicle for complaint if they were dissatisfied with my service.

I won't be renewing my home occupation license in December 2006. The reason is not that I wish to flaunt the law. Rather, I've learned that the Coeur d'Alene City Council doesn't really care what kinds of businesses we conduct out of our homes as long as no one complains. The Council expressed its position quite clearly in its January 17, 2006, meeting. In that meeting, the Council rejected a recommendation of the city's Planning Commission to require special use permits for home occupation businesses.

In its discussion prior to rejecting the Planning Commission's recommendation, the Council asked Deputy City Clerk Kathy Lewis to explain the home occupation permitting process. She outlined the process which includes completing a written application and a personal interview with her.

Having been through both the written application process and the personal interview, I can say without fear of contradiction that neither offers much, if any, protection to neighbors surrounding a home occupation business. It's not that Ms. Lewis isn't diligent in her duties; she is. She protects Coeur d'Alene citizens' interests as well as she can with the nearly nonexistent tools she's been given by the City.

Bluntly, I could lie to the Deputy City Clerk seven ways to Sunday to get the home occupation license, and neither she nor the City would know. That's because the City does not do any followup investigation on the representations made by an applicant for a home occupation permit. The City's failure to send a code enforcement officer to verify the information supplied by a home occupation license applicant is failure to exercise due diligence in municipal business licensing.

But surely no one intending to use a residence for an illegal business would even bother applying for a home occupation permit, right? If that's what our City Council thinks, it's wrong. If I were operating an illegal business out of my home and needed to plausibly explain why three or four different vehicles briefly stopped at my house daily, I would fabricate a home occupation that would explain the traffic, I would apply for and receive the home occupation permit knowing it would be granted without any investigation by the City, and then I would proudly show it to the neighbors so they wouldn't complain. The process is called "scrubbing" or "sanitizing" an illegal business premises.

I was extremely disappointed to see that no one from the Coeur d'Alene Police Department was at the January 17, 2006, Council Meeting to explain the value of home occupation permit applicant investigations in crime prevention. Other cities have acknowledged the contribution code enforcement, the enforcement of city ordinances, can make toward reducing community crime.

It was fascinating to read the council minutes linked above and to watch the meeting on CDA TV 19. Several council members felt that if no one complains, everything is just rosy. If they truly believe that a complaint-driven system is sufficient to ensure compliance with laws and ordinances, I'd suggest they consider reducing the size of the police department. Why bother having police officers initiate public contact? Why not keep them in the station until someone complains? That, of course, is an absurd proposition, but so is the City Council's myopic view of code enforcement.

It is astonishing to me that the City Council is so willing, even eager, to allow businesses to infiltrate residential neighborhoods without even so much as some sort of public hearing where applicant testimony is taken under oath and where neighbors have an opportunity to express support, opposition, or neutrality to the idea of a business operating next door. Our residential neighborhoods are zoned residential for good reasons. Our Council has lost sight of those reasons.

So I'd like to express my thanks to the Coeur d'Alene City Council. Its indifference toward enforcing city ordinances designed to protect our community has just saved me the annual license fee.


Blogger Dogwalkmusings said...

Good post, Bill. The attitude holds true on so much. The new contractors registration is a joke; so now you have to pay what - 20 bucks or so? No level of proficiency required. I know so many who have done remodeling and have been severely burned financially due to lack of requirements what's more oversight.

11:41 AM, February 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like your bloggs. All I can say about this blogg is. Welcome to the good old boys club of Northern Idaho and the town of the walking dead. I don't know what it will take for the Citizens of Northern Idaho to wake up and see what is going on in their community. How they are being ripped off by those that are suppose to protect and serve them and then give special favors to those that are in the good old boys club. It is time for the voters of Northern Idaho to clean house and elect responsible and service minded people into office. Not those that are self serving. We also need to see that accountability laws are passed in regards to our public officials. Keep up the good work Bill.

2:08 PM, February 27, 2006  

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