Column: Musings on some Alexandria oddities

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By Denise Dunbar

We all have our rants. Things that one person may not notice will strike another as outrageous or hypocritical. Below are some of mine, and I would be interested to hear what bugs you.

I heard grumblings this winter from people who were annoyed that too many Alexandria residents didn’t get their sidewalks cleared within the city requirement of 48 hours. That doesn’t particularly bother me. There are too many people for whom the act of shoveling snow is either dangerous or physically impossible. A friend of mine died last winter while clearing a neighbor’s driveway.

What does bother me: The city has this requirement on the books, but apparently the ordinance doesn’t apply to the city itself. Like Congress exempting itself from obnoxious laws it passes, this strikes me as the height of hypocrisy. After our snowfalls this year, I walked and drove past many city parks — most of which had pristine, untouched snow on surrounding sidewalks.

There are two other city laws I find insulting and ridiculous. The first is — yes, I’ve railed against this before — Alexandria’s four cat cap, also known as the “cat lady” rule. It’s enormously condescending for the city to think its residents need to be told how many pets they can own — the city says no more than four cats or six pets in total. The right number for one family may be different from what’s right for another. And the families — not Big Brother — are perfectly capable of making this determination on their own.

I know of a family with eight children that recently moved to Alexandria. Their house sits on an acre of land. Why shouldn’t each child have his or her own pet if they want? Yes, “cat lady” situations are horrible, but they already are covered under animal endangerment ordinances.

Rules like this make Alexandria look silly. There are many questions I long have wanted to ask the city cat counter (if such a person exists) such as, “Do fish count toward the six-pet rule?” If so, everyone with an aquarium may be in violation. If not, why are we discriminating against fish? Are we saying they’re not pets?

Is the city’s position that life begins at conception or at birth? After all, a family needs to know at what point they’re violating the law if, say, Muffin is carrying six kittens. And the aggregate weight of seven Pomeranians is less than one Great Dane — why, if the city is regulating the number of pets we can own, doesn’t it also give us a weight limit?

And how did City Hall decide four is the right number? Did someone roll a die? Has someone watched Monty Python’s bit about the holy hand grenade one too many times? I can imagine the conversation between city employees after hours, in a bar:

“Joe, there are too many gosh darn cats in this city.”

“Yes, Billy, I know.”

“What we going to do about it?”

“I know, let’s limit the amount of cats per household!”

“But what’s a good number?”

“Bartender, we’ll take two shots and two beers.”

Almost as bad is the ordinance saying an Alexandria resident can’t leave their car parked in one spot for more than three days, even if they lack off-street parking. This, despite the fact said resident pays local taxes on both their car and, if they’re a homeowner, their house. And, as with the cat rule, how did the city arrive at the number three?

This law is supposedly on the books to protect city residents from a deluge of abandoned cars — something we obviously all fear. I’m not sure how many days parked in one spot constitutes abandoned, but I do know it’s a lot more than three.

And finally, not a rant, but a curiosity: Why does West Street run North-South?

The writer is the publisher of the Alexandria Times.

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