An Abuse of Power

In the United States, federal, state and local governments exercise their respective, and sometimes overlapping, powers of regulation subject to constitutional privileges and protections. What we think of as private property rights sometimes overlap with our civil rights, which derive from these constitutional privileges and protections.

One such dual civil right and limit on governmental power is the right of all citizens to be safe and secure in their homes without fear of unreasonable or unwarranted government intrusion. In general, this right prevents government agents from entering your property without your consent, absent probable cause and exigent circumstances, or from demanding to search your home and records without prior court authorization.

Like most law-abiding citizens I take these rights and protections for granted and have not, until a brief encounter one recent Saturday morning, had much occasion to think about or exercise them.

While working in my garden, situated out of the way down a long private drive, off a private lane, a man suddenly appeared. He announced he was with “Animal Services” and was conducting a “survey.” He was wearing a brown shirt with a patch on the sleeve that said Santa Barbara County and he carried a clipboard. He offered no identification.

The man asked whether we had a dog. I replied that we had a miniature dachshund. He asked whether the dog had all its “papers and shots.” I replied that everything was in order as we had recently been to the vet. I added that our dog is old and infirm and will not be with us much longer. He then asked to come in to “look at our papers.” I told him that I thought that was a bit intrusive and declined. When I refused to invite him in to review our records, he became irritated and told me we would be “cited.” It appears the true purpose of his visit wasn’t a “survey,” after all.

While talking, the man held a clipboard in his hand on which there was a paper that listed neighboring addresses. While many of the neighboring property owners also have dogs, the list didn’t indicate as such. I told the man that his list did not appear to be accurate. He insisted it was. I told him that if he intended to cite us, then we expected to be treated the same as everyone else.

This whole encounter, which lasted less than three minutes, left me feeling terribly unsettled; unsettled that someone representing themselves to be a government representative conducting a “survey” can enter our property without invitation or prior notice, start questioning us, demand to enter our home to look at our records, and threaten to cite us with a violation of law when we decline. In the meantime, others lucky enough not to be home or dishonest enough not to tell the truth, are treated differently. The mind reels at the number of civil rights and property rights violations accomplished in this brief encounter, all so the County can collect a little more money to pay for its millions of dollars in unfunded pension obligations.

In a county and state in which law enforcement and government agencies are not even allowed to ask aliens who are here illegally – and violate our country’s immigration laws – to produce proof of legal residence, it is absolutely astounding that our property and civil rights, including the right to feel safe and secure, free from unwarranted government intrusion in our home, is so disregarded.

Shame on the County for such arbitrary and selective enforcement of the laws; how can it justify this conduct when it refuses to hold dishonest affordable housing owners liable for defrauding the County or to collect large sums of money due to the County by enforcing the Affordable Housing restrictive covenants?

Most astounding of all, while there are increasingly frequent, violent gang fights on State Street in broad daylight, the County of Santa Barbara is devoting its limited resources to having employees working overtime on a Saturday; all to keep the world safe from our 15-year-old dachshund whose life at this point is relegated to a sunny spot on the den sofa by day and between us on the bed at night.

In keeping with the principle that government should employ the least intrusive means of exercising power, how about distributing flyers at the local vets and boarding kennels? A better use of this employee’s time would be to go down to Butterfly Beach and enforce the existing leash law so we can all walk on the beach without being knocked over. He can pass out flyers and educate pet owners on the license requirements at the same time.

It sure beats entering private property and asserting regulatory power in such an arbitrary and abusive way.