Last week, the Woodburn City Council hosted the first full public discussion of something that has been in the works for much of this year:?a new nuisance ordinance that would place some limits on where residents can park on their own property.

Though the Woodburn Development Ordinance (WDO) already does this, it cannot be applied retroactively to existing uses. Which means that properties that predate that particular provision of the WDO?are effectively exempt from it.

A resident could simply claim that he, and his father, and his father’s father, and so on, had been parking in that same spot on the front lawn since before the Great Depression, and be perfectly in keeping with the law.

This concerned some residents, who implored the City Council to draft an ordinance that would be more enforceable in combatting what they deem eyesores that can reflect poorly on the entire neighborhood.

We must stress that the discussion, at this point, is somewhat academic. Though a proposed ordinance was presented July 14, numerous — and occasionally contradictory — revisions were suggested by councilors, so we don’t know exactly what the final product will look like.

Nevertheless, last week’s discussion was interesting, exploring the age-old conflict between two competing value systems: individual freedom versus the societal good.

We agree with Councilor Jim Cox and others that the city has an interest in and a right to some authority over the aesthetics of the properties within its borders.

However, we also see merit in the concerns expressed by other councilors, that the city must tread carefully in order to not step outside its bounds. Government overreach is always a real danger whenever an agency considers setting forth rules dictating what a person can and cannot do on his or her own land.

But some of the comments we found most compelling last week came from local residents like Durrell Crays. Crays pointed out that the city has ordinances already on the books that are not being enforced, at least not consistently, and not in certain parts of the city.

We confess to having been somewhat perplexed by the “Good Neighbor” campaign the city held last month. During the campaign, police and code enforcement officers traveled throughout the city, pointing out potential violations and educating residents about local laws ... which is sort of what we thought the code enforcement division does anyway.

We think the city’s desire to maintain a certain standard of aesthetics is laudable. But no government has ever been able to simply legislate disorder out of existence, and we doubt Woodburn will be any different.

The passing of a law implies a commitment by that government entity to carry out, uphold and, if necessary, enforce said law.

A change of this magnitude also brings the responsibility to undertake a broad and rigorous public information campaign, explaining not just that the change is happening, but why it was deemed necessary.

We trust that the Woodburn City Council will weigh these concerns carefully, and will come to a decision that makes the most sense for all of its residents, when the time comes.

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