EDITORIAL: It’s time for a systematic code cleanup

City Councilor Justin Wilson’s recent campaign to free Alexandria’s books of useless and outdated laws is a great public service. Many sections of our city code remain laws in name only, their original purposes no longer relevant today for a variety of reasons.

While Wilson’s efforts are commendable, we hope that this book-cleaning effort is done using an objective set of criteria rather than all willy-nilly. Just as legislation by anecdote is a bad way to make laws, removing them using a “well that’s stupid” methodology is a less than optimal way to clean the books.

In an effort to spark a discussion about what those objective criteria might be, we offer the following suggestions. We think a law should come off the books if:

1) The reason for the initial ordinance no longer exists. Hypothetical restrictions on, say, a horse and buggy obviously would not be relevant in modern-day Alexandria. Anti-sodomy laws are not relevant anywhere.

2) The law seeks to remedy a situation that is already covered by other measures — that is, it’s redundant. An example of this would be Alexandria’s rule that limits households to four cats or six pets total. This ordinance was a reaction to “cat lady” situations, where mentally ill people hoard dozens of pets. This type of situation is covered by sanitation code.

3) The law is realistically unenforceable. This would also apply to the four cat/six pet rule, as well as cat licensing. Unless, that is, the city decides to hire a cat enforcer to peek in windows and slink though the city’s alleyways counting kitties.

4) The law is an unnecessary or arbitrary burden on city residents. The rule that makes it a towable violation to leave a car parked for three days in front of one’s home falls in to this category. Both the limited number of days and the randomness of enforcement make this law a noxious burden.

We have been impressed with Wilson’s work as well as the suggestions from several residents who recently pitched in and researched city laws. This seems to be a perfect situation for an ad hoc committee, headed by Wilson and comprised of interested Alexandrians, to comb the city code for laws that need to go.

If laws are eliminated using a set of objective criteria after a systematic review of all city ordinances, there will be little room for complaint. As we approach the start of spring, it appears some cleaning is in order.

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